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Keep Your Child Rear Facing as Long as Possible

rear facing as long as possible

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 (AAP) has finally made more known their recommendation to keep children rear facing for as long as possible — but at least until they are 2.

 keep your child rear facing

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?

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“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).

spine stretch crash dynamics

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!

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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?”

After reviewing extensive crash and injury data, the AAP determined that children are not at an increased risk for leg injuries rear-facing rather than forward-facing. (Child Passenger Safety Technician Guide, Module 8, Page 8-2)

Studies show that forward-facing kids are actually more likely to have leg injuries.

“But my child wants to”

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.

© amie durocher


  1. This post is right on – just because they can turn around sooner does not mean they should. Protect those little children and stay rear facing til 40 lbs!

    Plus (a) their legs are more comfortable criss-crossed than dangling, and (b) they are less distracted by you when rear facing and do more imagining and looking out the windows.

  2. So basicly if you get rear ended your child is at the same risk of being in a front end accident with a front facing seat. RearEnd impact crashes are 30% and side impact is 25% of all accidents totaling 55% so there is a higher chance you get rear ended or hit from the side so again why is it safer to rear face? It is all in retrospect to what type of accident you are involved in. Slow down and drive safe with your children, that is the safest. If you are in a serious accident a child seat rear facing isn’t going to make a differnce.

    1. Joe,
      While we can certainly appreciate your perspective and your insight, in the interest of ensuring our audience is not left with potentially harmful information, we feel the need to respond to your comment. Your argument is not 100% accurate but one of your conclusions is 100% on point… we should ALL drive safely and defensively. After spending many years as an emergency responder I can assure you, and others, of 3 things that I know for certain:

      1. Speed kills
      2. No crash is “textbook” under “laboratory conditions” and therefore your assertion that “If you are in a serious accident a child seat rear facing isn’t going to make a difference” is just not able to be proven as accurate.
      3. Some crashes are unsurvivable no matter how the child is restrained.

      Lastly, many crashes that get lumped into “Side Impact” have a forward component to them which means that the rear-facing child’s head will be supported by seat shell and, even in a true “rear end” impact, depending on the severity, the rear-facing child’s “head excursion” can be limited vs a forward-facing child in a forward impact which has virtually unlimited forward excursion. All government issued “best practices” and crash testing protocols are based on years and years of real world crash fatality post incident analysis. You can find data at FARS.

      As I have said many times, “safety is ultimately about putting the odds in your favor” and all the data shows that keeping kids rear facing until at least 2 years is the best practice.
      Safe Travels.

  3. Greg, thank you so much for such informative answer. I will save it for the future references. Thanks again!

  4. My daughter has reached her weight limit for rear facing in our car seat, but not the height limit. You are saying to wait until she reaches the height limit? I am happy to do so, but I ask the question because in the blog post you said that you used only one variable (height) to determine when to turn around you kids to forward facing.

    1. Hi Jen, We say in the article “to keep your child rear facing until they reach the maximum height or weight allowances for their car seat.” So when your child reaches the weight or height limit of the seat, you switch to forward-facing. In my example I was sharing how our kids reached the height limit of their car seats and shared how old they were when that happened. I hope that is more clear. Often kids will hit one or the other first and not both limits at the same time.

  5. My child is 6 years old, just over 34 pounds, and almost 45 inches tall with a long torso. They are tall, thin, happy, and healthy. They have never sat forward facing in any passenger vehicle on land, or in the air. We ride extended rear facing in one of two Graco Extend2Fit car seats each and every trip since October 2017… including the 1 minute drive to and from school. My kid has no complaints even for 1 hour plus rides and we are a family that limits screen time to 30 minutes or less daily. My child is a self-proclaimed foodie who is confident, active, and at a second grade reading level. They tell me they feel safe and comfortable riding this way in the car seat.

    We will continue rear-facing until close to height or weight on the seat limits. We have 3 more clicks on the head/backrest and 10 lbs. until the weight limit using latch installation. We purchased 2 other convertible car seats in 2014 and did not even come close to the weight, but almost outgrew the height due to longer torso and chose the Graco Extend2Fit to allow for extended rear facing.

    Starting school this past August, I felt peer pressured to buy a booster for this 1 minute commute, as I was holding up the dropoff/pickup lines. I looked into the most current AAP and NHTSA safety seat info and it only further cemented what our family had decided long ago, since the newer recommendations as of 2018 are until your child has outgrown the seat requirements. Many pediatricians are even telling our friends with infants in 2019 to keep them rear facing until age 4, as many newer seat models will allow this for many children. Our child would likely outgrow the front facing limits before rear,because our seat has a higher height max in rear facing mode and they will reach that before the rear weight max. For us, that is potentially 16+ months from now. Also, the minimum booster seat weight recommendation is 40 lbs.

    In September 2019 we committed to buying a second Graco seat as we agree our child will ride in a rear facing car seat for as long as possible. The school has been kind to accomodate our choice since we require a minute to buckle up or extra time for drop off. I have always read the most current info published, choosing to follow the AAP & NHTSA recommendations for child car seat & passenger vehicle restraints and feel our child’s safety far outweighs any “inconveniences”. I have even toted a convertible car seat through 2 international airports and installed it rear facing using lap belts on several Southwest and United airplanes, as well as LA taxi cabs when my child was almost 2 years old with no issues… just some annoyed looks on planes….until they saw I could do it in seconds.

    My family is very much Pro Extended Rear Facing, despite the “norm”. For us, this is normal. We are a single (lower-middle) income household with no other help or “village”. Dirty dishes and laundry are always on my mind, but nutrition, schoolwork, hygiene, rest, and safety come first. Our two vehicles are both Japanese and about 10 years old – small/mid Sedan and a Crew cab Pickup. There is still enough legroom for a 6’+ passenger in front of the car seat in both vehicles, even if legs are a bit scrunched in the sedan.

    We do not feel moving to the next car seat level (forward facing, booster, etc.) is any kind of “milestone”. There are plenty other milestones that should actually be celebrated. Physics, safety studies, crash tests, and vehicle child injury data tells us this is the safest way for our child to travel… so this is just what we do.
    We have securely installed the seats using LATCH, buckle our child in with no slack, chest clips at armpit level, and double check all buckles and no movement in the seat almost every day, at least twice a day and it is just our normal.

  6. Are your children magically immune to motion sickness? Both of mine get nauseous enough facing forward. They have both thrown up during car rides longer than an hour. I’m even worse than they are. I can’t sit in the back seat of any vehicle without being medicated. I can’t even imagine how nauseous they would be in rear facing seats!

    1. Hi Motion sickness?, Actually no they aren’t immune. I myself am similar to you, I get motion sickness all the time in the back seat. Two of my kids also occasionally get motion sickness but they never experienced motion sickness when they were rear facing. It didn’t start until they turned forward facing. I know for some other children the motion sickness gets better when they are forward facing. So I guess it really depends. Motion sick or not, doesn’t take away that rear facing is safer for children (it would be for all occupants actually) in a crash because the spine and head are all being supported.

    2. Kids can absolutely get motion sickness. My infant daughter has dealt with it since the day she was born and the only way to guarantee no puke is if she’s asleep. If she’s awake she’ll often puke and in fact she wears a bib during every car ride for that very reason. I’m hoping she’ll outgrow it as she gets older or at least lessens.

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