The right car seat is an investment in the safety of your child. Among the many factors to consider is the positioning of the seat, a rear-facing car seats for as long as possible are generally considered to be the safest choice. With that in mind, here are four rules for rear-facing car seats to help you to keep your little one safe and sound while in transit.
In a recent policy statement that was published in Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its recommendation to advise parents to keep their children in rear-facing car seats until they either reach at least 2 years of age or grow to exceed the height or weight limit for the car seats — such limits can generally be found on the back of the seat. This recommendation addresses many parents' tendency to move their children to a forward-facing position at age 1.
Dennis Durbin, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement and accompanying technical report, stated that this is ill-advised:
Parents often look forward to transitioning from one stage to the next, but these transitions should generally be delayed until they’re necessary, when the child fully outgrows the limits for his or her current stage.
For those looking to make the most of their rear-facing car seat and maximize their child's safety, take a look at these "rules" for help.
Keep Them Rear-Facing Until They're At Least 2 Years Old
Before this update, the AAP recommended that parents keep children facing towards the rear as long as possible, until they reach the specified limit on the seat — and this recommendation has not changed. What has changed is the previous age guideline citing 1 year and 20 pounds as the minimum parameters for flipping.
The policy change has pushed the age up to 2 years in an effort to encourage parents to wait longer to move children around. Dr. Durbin explained that this is because a rear-facing seat is generally safer:
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.
As the AAP has laid out in its new guidelines, waiting a little longer to flip your little one around is the safest course of action.
Know Your Seat & Consider Going Convertible
As many children grow faster than they age, you may be left wondering when the best time is to move the child around. There are a number of different car seat options that can be used to face the rear. HealthyChildren.org lays out three different types of car seats: rear-facing-only seats, convertible seats, and 3-in-1 seats. Each of these has the ability to face the rear and its own height and weight restrictions.
Parenting interviewed Ben Hoffman, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and a child passenger safety technician, to help explain the best ways to follow the AAP's guidelines and choosing the right seat.
Dr. Hoffman explained that it is “a very personal decision for the parent,” and may also be influenced by other factors such as budget, car size, or the arrival of a new baby. A good option to help make the transition a smooth one is to purchase a 3-in-1 or convertible car seat with a higher height or weight limit to use once the child outgrows his or her first seat, Dr. Hoffman suggested. With one of these seats, it can be used rear-facing for a bit longer, ideally until the child is 2-years-old.
It is also true that some children will reach age 2 before they reach the height and weight limits for their seat. In that case, Dr. Hoffman recommends that smaller children stay facing to the rear until they outgrow it.
Install It Properly
Before installing your seat, always be sure to read your car owner's manual as well as the car seat manual. While each specific seat will come with its own installation instructions, here are a few general recommendations to make sure that the seat is properly installed, according to the AAP:
The Harness: These should be placed in slots that are located at or below your baby's shoulders. Additionally, the harness should be secure and snug. You should be unable to to pinch any slack on the straps when testing. Finally, the chest clip should be placed at the center of your child's chest, even with his or her little armpits.
The Latch: The seat should be installed nice and tight in the vehicle and secured with either a latch or a locked seat belt. If the seat can be moved more than an inch, side to side or front to back, it's not tight enough.
The Location & Angle: A rear-facing car seat should never be placed in the front of a vehicle with an active front passenger airbag. If the airbag were to inflate, it would strike the back of the carseat and cause serious injury or death. As for the angle of the seat, the child's head should not flop forward. The instructions will include the correct angle, as all rear-facing seats should have a built-in angle indicator or adjuster.
The Seat Belt: A convertible or 3-in-1 car seat facing to the rear should have the seat belt or lower anchor webbing routed through the correct belt path. Read the car seat's instructions to be sure it is in the proper place.
Follow Your State's Laws
Even once you think that your little one is old enough to be out of a car seat, your local laws may not agree with you. Your state's child safety laws are easily accessed on each state websites, but the Governor's Highway Safety Association has a compiled a handy list of laws as well. While these laws may not outline the exact position of your car seat, they can help you decide when to move your child from a car seat to a safety belt.
There you have it, folks. Car seats can be complicated, but following these instructions is an important part of keeping your child safe. Even the best seat on the market won't operate at the best of its ability when used incorrectly.
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