Why keep your child rear facing?
Car Passenger Safety Technicians teach parents that keeping your child rear facing for as long as possible is safest and best practice.
While many state laws still say the minimum is one year and 20 pounds, the American Academy of Pediatrics has finally made more known their recommendation to keep children rear facing for as long as possible — but at least until they are 2.
The preference is to keep your child rear facing until they reach the maximum height or weight allowances for their car seat.
Simply children are safer riding rear facing rather than forward facing.
What makes it so much better?
“A rear-facing child safety seat does a better job of supporting the head, neck and spine of infants and toddlers in a crash, because it distributes the force of the collision over the entire body,” said Dennis Durbin, M.D., FAAP. “For larger children, a forward-facing seat with a harness is safer than a booster, and a belt-positioning booster seat provides better protection than a seat belt alone until the seat belt fits correctly.”
A great majority of severe crashes, 72%, are frontal impact and rear-facing car seats are specifically made to help a child “ride down” a front impact crash.
Remember children, especially infants, have very immature bones and connective tissue which make serious injury a greater possibility. During a crash when a child is in a rear-facing car seat it’s entire body is cradled, which spreads the crash force across the whole area and reduces pressure. If you use an egg analogy, an egg is much less likely to break if it is caught in the whole padded area of your hand (rear facing) rather than a couple of fingers (forward facing).
When a child is turned forward-facing, the head and legs are thrown forward during a crash and serious forces are put on the child’s spinal cord. A child’s head in 25% of his body weight, bones are not yet ossified and the spine is mostly cartilage. During a crash, a child’s spine can stretch up to two inches. However, paralysis or death can occur at only 1/4 inch of cord stretch.
I always like to tell parents that the requirements and practices in Sweden are different. There children are often kept rear facing much longer, typically to 4 years old or older. Auto related injury and death rates for rear-facing children in Sweden are near zero because of this.
Why do parents want to turn their child around?
So it baffles me when parents want to turn their children forward facing earlier than necessary. I’ve spoken to a lot of parents who treat a first birthday as some sort of graduation to forward facing. Many other parents begin to get concerned about possible leg injuries because the child’s legs are folded or up the back seat. Other parents simply are under the impression that their child must be uncomfortable.
Why is this? Because the parent would be uncomfortable sitting criss-cross applesauce? Personally, I like sitting criss-cross applesauce and could definitely sleep better in the car leaning back with sides upon which to lean my head. Do they make a rear-facing adult passenger seat? It’s coming, I know it, because it’s so much SAFER for everyone!
Download our report: Common Car Seat Mistakes and How to Fix Them
Think about how flexible your child is and the absolute strange ways your child will sit when not in the car. Children are comfortable — and comfortably sleep— in some of the strangest positions. And if you ask most children old enough to speak and have an opinion, they would say they are perfectly comfortable in the rear-facing position, even with their legs folded.
What about leg injuries?
As far as leg injuries go, there is not a single documented case of children’s legs, hips, etc. breaking or being injured in a crash due to longer rear facing. And even if it were a likelihood, as one paramedic/CPS tech I know likes to say — in a way that makes it very visual for parents — “Would you rather your child have a broken leg or broken neck?”
Studies show that forward-facing kids are actually more likely to have leg injuries.
I’ve heard parents request their child be turned forward facing because “the child wants to”. I laugh to myself when I hear this especially when the child is in question is only a year old. I’m sorry, but, really, your child told you this? It seems that parents have this belief most often when the child has older siblings who are forward facing. Does the child somehow know there’s a difference between looking behind the car versus what their sibling sees going on in front of the car?
Having already been a CPS tech for several years by the time my second child was nearing this time period, I took preemptive precautions by talking about how much safer and fun it is to ride rear-facing. She never complained. And neither did my third child.
In Sweden it is common practice to keep children rear facing until at least age 4. Because it is the cultural norm children just understand they will be rear facing.
How long do I keep my child rear facing?
So we all agree now to keep your child children rear facing as long as possible, right?
So how long is that?
AAP and NHTSA recommend to wait until the child reaches the maximum height or weight allowance for their child restraint.
So it really depends on the car seat your child is using. The rear-facing weight range for car seats is typically 30 to 45 pounds. The height range also varies seat to seat. Your child is too tall for the seat in a rear-facing position when your child’s head is within one inch from the top.
To give you an age reference, my two big kids have really long torsos and outgrew their rear-facing seat by height when they were between 2 1/2 and 3. That was about 10 years ago. Since then, many manufacturers designed seats to allow for taller children.
Many other children can comfortably remain rear facing up to age 4 or even 5. So keep those children safer and keep rear facing as long as possible.
And as far as you are concerned, you’ll just have to wait until one day when someone makes a car with rear-facing seats for adult passengers. (And hopefully, they’ll have some nice side headrests for me to use when sleeping.)
Do (did) you practice extended rear facing? Share your comments below.
By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004
Copyright 2018 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 November 2013. We updated the article for accuracy and comprehensiveness.