Parents are constantly given advice on how to care for their children, but the recent recommendations for car seats should not be overlooked. This is because forward-facing kids are far more likely to die (1). The long standing belief that children should ride in a rear-facing seat until they are 1 has been extended to 2 years, or longer, according to The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. These new policy statements were issued on March 21st, 2011 and are based primarily on a 2007 University of Virginia study. The study found children under 2 are 75% less likely to suffer severe or fatal injuries in a crash if they are facing the rear (4). Toddlers have relatively large heads and small necks, in which the bones are structurally immature. If a child is forward facing, his or her neck can fly forward during a crash which can cause spinal cord injuries (3).
Parents should be aware that with each transition they make, from rear-facing to forward-facing, to booster seats, they are making the ride less safe for their child. It is better not to risk it and delay the switch as long as possible. Parents are often reluctant to keep their child rear facing, as they believe the child's legs will be bent during the ride, they will have nothing stimulating to look at, or just be unhappy facing backwards (2). But if the child doesn't know any differently, they will think it's just the way it is. In this position, 2 year- olds are not more likely to break their legs in a crash and they are not necessarily any less comfortable.
Luckily, adhering to the recommendations is becoming easier for parents, as "most car seat makers have increased the amount of weight the seats can hold" (3). Ten years ago rear facing car seats only accommodated children up to 22 pounds. Today, nearly half or rear- facing seats hold 30 pounds.
1. Chicago Tribune
4. NY Times