AAP Car Seat Safety Guidelines – Rear-Facing Until 2 Years Old

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CarSeat Safety

Did you know that the first child restraint law wasn’t passed until January 1, 1978, in Tennessee?  Yep!  Not that long ago in the big picture.  We’ve come a long way since that first law- and it’s undoubtedly saved many children’s lives. Let’s go ahead and dig into some of the history of car seat laws and work our way to now, and what the current rules are.

Child Restraint History

When I learned about current car seat safety regulations and laws, I find myself wondering how people from past generations survived. The ruling stated that children under four years of age must use child restraints while in the vehicle. It wasn’t until 1985 that laws were being passed saying that children must be in a car seat while riding in automobiles.

Upon looking further back into the 1930’s, the first child’s car seat was essentially a metal booster seat that hooked to the back of the passenger seat. It was more about containing that child, so it was not loose in your vehicle. Nothing about it even whispers “safety,” much less safe. It was merely a vehicular accessory. A convenience for the parent, if you will. Before that, you could place your child in a gunny sack that would be tied to the headrest of the passenger seat.

Yikes! I am so glad child car seat safety has evolved.

A Modern Era of Car Seat Safety and Laws

Nowadays the seats are high tech and compete to be rated the highest in all the safety ratings. Infant seats are quite uncomplicated to install, more now than ever. With one click the carrier fits right into the base that stays in your vehicle.

Then you have seats that convert through all the stages of car seat needs which, for any new Mom is pretty much the best thing ever.   Other car seats don’t do that, but still, have the safety features required by law.  Many come with cup holders, which is nice since a car seat usually eliminates the ability to use the cup holders in the back seat.

But what’s required of these car seats? There are a few things:

  1. All car seats MUST have a 5 point harness system.
  2. All seats now also come with expiration dates and are put through rigorous crash testing- once that expiration date passes you’re required to get a new one.
  3. All car seats must be able to be rear facing and forward facing.

The Million Dollar Question- To be Rear Facing or Forward Facing

But most of all the concern is about finding the safest car seat and the position that the seat should be. We all know that the middle of the back seat is the best position for your child’s seat to be in, as it’s the safest should you get in a car accident.

Equally as important, however,  is whether or not your child should be front facing or rear facing.  

Most state laws mandates that the child’s car seat must be in a rear-facing position until age 1 and roughly 25% of parents use this as a marker of when they can turn them around. By one-year-old, most babies have outgrown their infant car seat.  Therefore upon installing a new seat, some parents will choose to install the seat forward facing.

The Numbers

A study done by Injury Prevention in 2007 showed that children under two years of age were 75% less likely to die in a motor vehicle accident if they were rear facing. While a separate study shows that rear facing is five times safer for children. Rear-facing did a better job of supporting the head, neck, and spine of children. With that new information, most states have passed laws stating that children two and under must remain rear facing, no matter the height or weight.

Why Rear-Facing until Two-years Old?

The reason behind waiting until your child is two years old to move to forward facing is that at age two a child’s head is still the most substantial part if it’s body. And until age two the skeletal structure of a child cannot withstand the impact of an automobile accident if they were to be facing forward.

That being said, many new studies are coming out that prolonging turning a child’s car seat may not be a bad idea. Sighting that even if at age two the child hasn’t met the rear-facing weight criteria stated on your car seat then keep them rear facing until they do. Some car seats can hold up to 50 pounds rear facing. That’s the weight if the average 6-year-old.  

To Delay Forward Facing, or to not Delay

By delaying forward facing you are prolonging the safety benefits if rear facing and improving passenger safety. Surely your 6-year-old will have something to say about facing the back of the car on the way to their first day of 1st grade, but something to consider is that for the past 35 years in Sweden children have been rear facing until four years of age. They also have very low vehicular accident injury or death rates as a result. Swedes for the win!

What About The Kids’ Legs?

Many have raised concern about the length of a child’s legs and rear facing and if it will impact growth, how uncomfortable is that for my child, and would they be at a higher risk of suffering a broken leg in a car accident.

The answer is a  resounding, “no,” rear-facing does not negatively impact your child’s growth.

Your child would have to spend an inordinate amount of time in their car seat for that to even be possible. While yes, it may look uncomfortable to a grown up you need to keep in mind that children are much more flexible than we are. They can withstand riding cross-legged for more extended periods of time than you or I can. Lastly, there are zero documented cases of a rear facing child suffering a fracture or broken bone from the hip down due to a motor vehicle accident. In fact, your child could very well suffer a broken leg while forward facing. As upon impact their legs will likely come forward and hit the seat back in front of them, potentially resulting in an injury of some sort.

Booster Seat Time

Once your child has outgrown their car seat, it’s time to move on to a booster seat. Most states require that a child must be in a booster seat until age 14 or until they are 4 feet 9 inches tall. Other states take the law even farther and require that children 14 and under must not sit in the front seat. Be sure to check your local laws regarding this matter.

Correct Car Seat Installation

Making sure that you have installed your car seat correctly is a concern most parents have. Sure you read the manual, and maybe watched the manufacturer’s instructional video but you still have that lingering doubt.

This is normal! In my area, police officers or firefighters will hold car seat clinics and install them for you, or check how you did.  Contact your local law enforcement, fire station or hospital to find out if they have a car seat clinic happening and a certified car seat technician will be able to tell you if you have installed your seat correctly or not. If not they will help you make the required adjustments. To further assist them, make sure you bring the manual that came with your car seat, as not all seat have the same instructions. Also, the manual will have the manufactures information about your seat making it easier for the technician to look up recall information.

What if you were gifted an older car seat?

Lastly, if you are given a hand me down car seat or purchasing a used car seat, it is always best to check the expiration date. Manufactures regulations and government laws change often, and some car seats may not be up to date with the newest safety regulations. Also, make sure that the car seat has not previously been in a car accident. Even though the car seat may look perfectly okay, it’s possible that an auto accident may have lessened its structural integrity making it unsafe for use.

Car seat safety can be quite difficult to follow as the laws change often- if you’re unsure just look up your state’s laws online!

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