Our children are always our most precious cargo while on the road, and keeping young children safe in the case of a car accident is always one of the foremost concerns for any parent which is why experts have always promoted rear-facing car seats for infants and toddlers.
Keeping your children in rear-facing car seats as long as possible (until the child reaches the seat’s maximum height/weight limits) is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This is partly because a recent study has shown that children under 2 years old have a 75% less likely chance to be injured or killed in a car crash if they are in a rear-facing safety seat.
That statistic should be all you need to know to keep your child rear-facing for as long as you can, but many parents switch their child to a front-facing vehicle seat when the child should still be rear-facing for convenience and concern for their child’s comfort.
A recent study, published by the Journal of Traffic Injury Prevention in October 2015, found that the potential for infants and young babies to suffer from serious head injuries in a rear-end car crash while in a rear-facing car seat is much more severe than previously thought. BUT, it’s very important to distinguish that this study recommended parents to maintain using rear-facing car seats and not to switch their children to front-facing car seats until the proper timing for the child.
The only negative criticism this study revealed in terms of rear-facing child car seats, is that they need to be made safer for rear-impact crashes.
This article is going to go in-depth into exactly how rear-facing car seats are safer as compared to front-facing car seats for babies, how long you should keep your child rear-facing and we will address all of the potential concerns that many parents have towards rear-facing car seats. By further understanding all of this information about rear-facing car seats you’ll be sure to keep your precious cargo safe no matter what happens on the road.
Rear-Facing Vs. Front-Facing
When children are very young, their heads and spinal cords are still developing which leaves these very important areas of the body more susceptible to serious injury, especially because every young child’s head is proportionately larger than their necks.
In the case of a frontal crash, a child’s neck, head, and thorax are all well restrained together by the back of a rear-facing car seat, which diminishes any if not all chances of severe motion that could overload a child’s neck. In the same situation, if the child were in a front-facing car seat, the harness would restrain the child’s torso and cause the neck and head to pull forward, which could create the possibility of spinal injuries.
It is clearly evident from real motor vehicle crashes, a young child’s skull can literally be ripped from their spine due to the force of a car crash, but when a child is facing rearward the head is cradled properly and causes the head and body to move in unison so there is no chance of motion pulling on the neck in a stressful manner.
In the case of side-impact rear-facing car seats have proven to be more effective than front-facing seats. This is because with these types of impacts a child’s head and neck are more vulnerable to being thrown around while front-facing.
The biggest reason why a rear-facing car seat is safest for young children is that they allow for frontal crash forces to be spread across a child’s entire back, neck and head and prevent any type of snapping effect on the body and neck.
In the case of rear-end crashes, rear-facing car seats aren’t quite as effective as most parents would want, and it’s, of course, a major concern for all car seat developers today. What’s important for parents to know is that frontal impact crashes are much more common and severe than rear-impact crashes generally tend to be.
That’s one major reason why it’s always safe to have a BABY ON BOARD bumper sticker so that all drivers behind you can be aware that you have rear-facing precious cargo.
The experts have unanimously concluded that rear-facing car seats are safer than front-facing seats. A 2007 article in Injury Prevention stated that 1-2 year-olds were five times safer in side-impact crashes when rear-facing as opposed to forward-facing.
How Long Should Kids be Rear-Facing?
A 2009 article in the British Medical Journal stated that children under 4 years of age should use rear-facing car seats, but the reality is that many 2 year-olds start to outgrow their rear-facing car seats and many parents wrongfully think that is the appropriate time to switch them to front-facing seats.
In general, most kids should continue using a rear-facing child restraint system until they’re at the very minimum 3 years old, but today the timing of switching from rear-facing to front-facing largely depends on the child’s specific weight and height, and the limits of their car safety seat.
If your two-year-old is reaching the maximum weight of his or her car seat (about 22-35 pounds), or if the top of your child’s head is about an inch from the edge of the infant seat, then it is time for you to purchase a rear-facing convertible seat that is, of course, larger and can keep your child rear-facing until they weigh about 45 pounds. Some models can keep children rear-facing until they are 50 pounds.
What’s great about convertible car seats is that when your child reaches about 45 pounds and you feel comfortable switching them to front-facing, you can do so easily by simply switching the car seat around.
What About my Child’s Legs?
The comfort of a child’s legroom while riding in a rear-facing car seat is one of the most popular concerns among parents. That’s primarily because many children have to raise their knees up slightly and tuck themselves into a cannonball-like shape in order to be comfortable.
The truth of the matter is that front-facing car seats have resulted in many more leg injuries than rear-facing seats. A child’s legroom is nowhere near as important as their head and neck safety. Also, it’s important to understand that children have much more flexibility in their knee, ankle and hip joints than adults, and this leads to a much larger range of motion as well. This is because their joints aren’t fully formed, and is exactly why young children can fall asleep in what even the most seasoned yogis would consider stressful positions!
Other Parental Concerns with Rear-Facing Car Seats
Many of the concerns we’ve heard about from parents in terms of rear-facing car seats are rather trivial, but they are legitimate concerns that parents have while driving with their children, which at times can be stressful no matter which way the child is facing.
Some parents are concerned that their toddler can’t see out when they REALLY want to see out, and in these situations, it’s important for parents to make the rear-facing position exciting. You can do this by moving a headrest on the back seat so they can see out the back of the car. Other times parents are concerned that their babies get too scared in rear-facing car seats because they don’t know where their mommy and daddy really are, but generally, children about 9 months and older can hear and understand what’s going on while in a rear-facing car seat, and when they get older they can be entertained by games like ‘I Spy’, songs and fun stories.
Some parents get concerned about motion sickness, but Volvo recently did a study and found that the rates of motion sickness are the exact same between rear-facing and front-facing car seats, so regardless of the direction in which a child is riding there can be cause for concern with motion sickness with young kids. The best thing to do with this situation is to place the child in the center seat with limited visibility of the side windows and an unobstructed view of the back, or front, window.