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Going Forward Facing Too Early – WAY Too Early

forward facing rear facing car seat

Nearly 25% of parents turn their child forward facing too early, even before the child turns 1.

A University of Michigan survey asked a randomly selected group of parents with children between the ages of 7 months and 4 years about when they transitioned their child to a forward-facing car seat.

Researchers did two surveys. And while the later survey had better numbers, still too many children were turned forward facing too early. Here are the numbers:

  • In 2011, 33% of parents of 1-to 4-year-old children who had been turned to face forward had done so at or before 12 months. Just 16% reported turning their child’s seat at 2 years or older.
  • In 2013, 24% of parents of 1- to 4-year-old children who had been turned to face forward made the switch at or before 12 months.  23% reported waiting to turn until the child was 2 years old or older.
forward facing rear facing car seat

These surveys are older now and we could not find any updated statistics. The information remains important to note. More states are updating their car seat laws to require children remain rear-facing until age 2. But there are still many that don’t have an age requirement or require it up to age 1.

How long should a child stay rear facing?

The best practice recommendation is to keep children rear facing for as long as possible until the child outgrows the rear-facing limits of the child restraint. Sometimes this may not happen until a child is 3 or 4 — sometimes even older.

The American Academy of Pediatrics guideline — since March 2011 — is to keep the children rear facing until they are a minimum of 2 years old. Using a rear-facing car seat longer reduces the risks of serious injury. Update: AAP now also makes the above recommendation; to keep your child rear facing for as long as possible, to the upper limits of the child restraint.

Why is keeping them rear facing important?

most common car seat mistakes

While the child is rear facing their whole back, neck and head are being supported by the seat in the event of a crash. When turned forward facing, the child is restrained by the harness strap and they lose the neck and head support. This increases their risk of spinal and neck injury from the still heavy head being thrown forward in a crash.

“Getting parents to delay the transition to a forward-facing seat still represents an opportunity to improve passenger safety in the U.S.,” says lead author Michelle L. Macy, M.D., M.S., of the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

Car crashes are still a leading cause of death among children younger than 4 years old and is the leading cause of death among older children. This is often in part because children are unrestrained or not using the restraint recommended for their age and size.

“There are lots of reasons why parents are eager to change from the rear-facing to forward-facing seat: the perception their children are too large, the desire to see their children when driving, and a greater ease of removing their children from a forward facing seat,” says Macy. “But delaying the switch can make a big difference. In Sweden it is culturally accepted that children up to age 4 are in rear-facing seats and child traffic fatalities are among the lowest in the world.”

Read more about keeping children in a rear-facing seat:
We want to know, at what age did you turn your child around? Share your comments below.

By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004

Copyright 2021 Safe Ride 4 Kids. All rights reserved. You may not publish, broadcast, rewrite or redistribute this material without permission. You are welcome to link to Safe Ride 4 Kids or share on social media.

We originally published this post in August 2019. We updated the article for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

© amie durocher


  1. My oldest(born in 2013) rearfaced to 5.5yo when he hit 40#(the limit of his seat at the time) he was also 43” at the time. He still asks to be rearfacing at 7.5 48.25” 48# because we now have a 50# limit rearfacing seat but he has only ridden in it twice because he just doesn’t have the occasion to be in the car alone much.

    My twins now 5.5yo are only 35&38# and 42&43” and I turned them at 4 due to car space but they still ride rearfacing from time to time and I might have the opportunity to keep them rearfacing longer now since I now have 2 50# limit seats it’s just they complain they are uncomfortable due to the shape of the seats(c shaped).

    My youngest is 3.5 31# 38” And of course still rearfacing all the time. But I’m having to fight her dad on keeping her rearfacing.

  2. Why would you have them rear facing when if you were in a reck it could brake there legs or cripple them for life my 11 month old granddaughter is already. 32 inches long and weights 22 lbs. If the car set is a good it should have the right protection she needs.

    1. If your grand daughter were in a frontal impact car accident she would be much more likely to be internally decapitated and die.
      I’d take a broken leg over death for my children. That said rear facing is no more likely to cause a broken leg in an accident and is 5 times safer.
      Please read up on it and turn your grand daughters seat back to rear facing.

  3. My daughter is 3.5 yrs old but only 30lbs and 36”. I’d prefer to switch her forward but she’s still rear facing. Hopefully she’s big enough later this year to flip her.

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