Confused about car seats? Join the club. There’s just so much conflicting information being tossed around out there about how to best keep your children safe in the car. For years, pediatricians and child experts have said it’s safe for a child that is one year old AND 20 pounds to be in a forward-facing car seat.
Sure, we’ve all heard the buzz about extended rear facing being the safest way for little ones to travel. I personally am of the belief that anything I can do to up my car safety factor is a good thing.
I spent weeks agonizing over the correct type and brand of car seat for Little Bud, eventually settling on the Britax Marathon (which I LOVE). Sure it’s pricey, but what is a couple of hundred dollars when your child’s life is at stake? I gladly handed over the cash at Babies R’ Us and was more than convinced that I made the right choice. Installation was a breeze and we were on our way.
Now that he’s a year old, many of my fellow daycare mommies have scoffed at my insistence that he remain rear facing in the center of the backseat. Little Bud is a monster and surpassed the 20 pound mark when he was about 7 months old. So why not turn him around now that he’s a year? All the research I had done led me to the conclusion that my little angel is safest in a rear facing child seat. Sure, it’s a little more of a hassle getting him strapped in, but that is a small price to pay and he still seemed comfortable. However, I started noticing that we were in the minority. Most parents can’t wait until their little ones reach that anticipated first birthday and they can finally transition them to a forward facing position.
Things have just changed! The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says we should now keep our children in rear-facing car seats until age 2, or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their seat. The new recommendation was published in the April 2011 issue of Pediatrics.
The American Academy of Pediatrics article cited research that children are 75 percent LESS likely to die or be severely injured in a crash if they are in a rear-facing child restraint. Following this release, the NHTSA released a new set of child seat guidelines today that echoes this finding.
It’s recommended that children remain rear facing up to the maximum rear-facing weight and height limit for the child’s safety seat or at least until the child turns two. The rear-facing position greatly limits the stress placed on a child’s neck and spinal cord in the event of a collision. According to pediatric experts, a rear-facing child seat acts like a cocoon, cradling the child’s head, torso, and extremities. The seat spreads the crash force over the strongest parts of the body and away from the head and neck.
Five Point Safety Harness
Forward facing children who have outgrown the rear-facing limits on their safety seats should remain in a five-point harness as long as possible and should only transition to a booster seat once they exceed the height and weight limits of the five-point harness. These harnesses provide a much higher level of protection than the adult seat belts in a car.
It’s now recommended that all children remain in a booster seat until they are 4 feet 9 inches tall. Most kids won’t reach this height until they are between 8 & 12 years old. Many manufacturers offer hybrid seats that allow the tallest and heaviest kids to remain in a five-point harness before converting to a booster. Once the child exceeds those limits, the seats easily convert to become a booster.
We all know that children are safest in the back seat. Once kids are tall enough to safely use the automobile’s seat belts, they should continue to ride in the backseat until at least 13 years of age (Big Bud will be bummed). Oftentimes, kids under that age can be injured when the airbag deploys.
Still confused? Read the AAP’s official release here.
The best safety bet is to make sure and read the instruction booklet for you child’s safety seat carefully and make sure to not transition the child until he or she meets the maximum height and weights limits for their seat. At every transition, children loose a measure of protection, so pediatricians are now advising parents to leave their child in each stage for as long as the car seat allows. The great news for parents is that most manufacturers are now producing safety seats with increased rear-facing weight limits and longevity, eliminating the need to purchase multiple seats as the child grows.
Statistics show that the leading cause of death for children between the ages of 3 and 14 is a motor vehicle collision. Safety seats have evolved dramatically over the last few years and federal testing requirements have not kept pace with the market. Even though the AAP has updated its recommendations, the government may be slower in updating the required testing for child safety seats. The safest seat is one that fits your child and vehicle properly, is installed correctly, and can be used the proper way every time the child is in the car. Certified technicians are available to check the installation of your seat. Click here to find the nearest inspection station.
Still confused? Check out this video for an easy-to-understand breakdown of the changes from a parent-pediatrician.