I’ve written before about the importance of keeping young children rear-facing as long as possible, but am always keen to write more on the topic. It’s why the car seats I recommend and review are those with the highest rear-facing limits currently available in the United States.
Here is an article from the New York Times (from 2011) that discusses the issue, with my thoughts on specific parts of it.
Toddlers are usually switched from rear-facing to forward-facing car seats right after their first birthday — an event many parents may celebrate as a kind of milestone.
This is a phenomenon I’ve seen too often. Parents want to switch as quickly as possible, and even see switching as the car equivalent of a baby taking her first steps or saying his first words. However, switching later is better. In fact, switching at one is much too early.
The advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics, issued Monday, is based primarily on a 2007 University of Virginia study finding that children under 2 are 75 percent less likely to suffer severe or fatal injuries in a crash if they are facing the rear.
In other words, switching children from rear-facing to forward-facing positions significantly increases their risks of suffering severe or fatal injuries in car collisions.
The new policy statement also advises that older children should ride in a belt-positioning booster seat until they are 4 feet 9 inches tall, and 8 to 12 years old.
This bit of advice is also important, as many parents rush to place their children in the front seats of their vehicles simply because their children ask them to, because they want to share the experience of driving with their children early, or because it’s more convenient and cheaper than worrying about booster seats. However, placing children in seat belts before they’re tall enough to fit them well (4 feet 9 inches, per the AAP), places them at risk.
“We want them to recognize that with each transition they make, from rear-facing to forward-facing, to booster seats, there is a decline in the safety of their child. That’s why we are urging parents to delay these transitions for as long as possible.”
This is something I’ve said for years; each seat transition increases risks. Technically, adults would also be safer rear-facing or forward-facing in harnesses, but that’s a discussion for another day. The key point is that the safest configuration for a child is a rear-facing one. Forward-facing a child makes him or her less safe, and booster seats (unless children sit well) are less safe than forward-facing seats.
The academy’s previous policy, from 2002, said it was safest for infants and toddlers to ride facing the rear, and cited 12 months and 20 pounds as the minimum requirements for turning the car seat forward.
This was the old recommendation, and it wasn’t good enough. To be honest, the new recommendation isn’t good enough either. That’s why car seat safety advocates (including yours truly) advocate extended rear facing. And you know what? It’s actually the standard in some other countries.
Sweden, for instance, where children face the rear until age 4, has the world’s lowest highway fatality rate for children under 6.
This is a fact you’ll see mentioned on this site time and time again because it’s that important. If you rear-face until age 4, you’re giving your child an advantage–a big one. The Swedes have done this for decades, and it’s one of the reasons why they lose so few children to collisions.
“It’s a horrible term,” she said, “but E.M.T.’s call the rear-facing seat ‘the orphan seat’ because in a bad car accident, that child is often the only one who survives.”
My goal is to prevent the rear-facing seat from being the orphan seat for your family; that’s why I write endlessly about car safety. But car seat safety is a part of car safety, and is essential to keep in mind. I’ve written up several cases that involved orphan seats, and the phenomenon is real.
Until recently, most car seats that could be turned to face the rear did not accommodate children weighing more than 20 pounds. Today, however, the limits are closer to 30 to 35 pounds, and a few go to 45 pounds.
It’s worth keeping in mind that this hasn’t been true for a long time outside of the US. Sweden has long had 45 pound and higher car seats, and seats that could rear-face that long only recently became available in the United States. Fortunately, we also now have a few seats capable of reaching 50 pounds, such as the Pacifica, Rainier, and Foonf, pictured above.
The evidence is clear. Rear-face your children to keep them safe. Here is part of a thoughtful comment in the discussion section of that article:
Steve from Arizona wrote:
“This new recommendation is a step in the right direction but it’s still outdated by 30 years. The recommendation by the real experts, the Swedes, is to keep children rear facing until age 4 or longer. That’s what the Swedes do and thanks to this the fatality rate is basically zero each year for young children. Amazing and impressive.
I found this out through pure luck, was working with a Swedish guy who insisted on keeping his children rear facing. Now I’m a rear facing fan since it’s a real life saver. My kids are turned around and will remain rear facing until 4+ years.
Our country is so far behind in car seat safety is embarrassing. We are where the Swedes were 1980. Consider that for a minute. I think we should do better than today and have our children grow up instead of being injured/die in preventable accidents.
The Swedes have rear facing seats which make us look like a third world nation. The seats are compact, rear facing limit of 55 lbs and fit small to large cars. Children sit with bent legs which is safe and comfortable. To grasp some basic info try carseat.se which is an English site with easy to read info.
Oh, poster #101 still hasn’t understood that rear facing is 500% safer, 5 times safer, which has been proven by peer reviewed research and real life experiences in Sweden.
Must surely be a coincidence the Swedes have a zero fatality rate for young kids while it’s the number one killer in US….?”
With all this in mind, why would you want to place your children in seats that don’t allow them to rear-face as much as possible? Why wait for another decade for the AAP to realize that rear-facing until 3 is a good idea? Because even then, they’ll still be 25 pounds behind the Swedes!
Here are the seats that are as good as it gets for rear-facing today in the United States. I wholeheartedly recommend them. Hopefully we’ll soon start seeing seats with even higher height and weight limits.
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