Bellingham babies (and parents), take note: the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) currently recomends that toddlers are kept in rear-facing car seats until age two, or until they exceed the height or weight limit for the car seat. Previous recommendations were a little less strict about that, informing caregivers to stay in rear-facing car seats as long as possible. They only recommended the minimum age and weight to switch them to forward-facing, which was only one year old and twenty pounds.
State laws will vary, and many have not caught up with these revised guidelines. However, many parents have opted to buy convertible car seats that allow toddlers to face the rear until they are at least age two. Many of these seats can then be switched around to face forward as the child's legs grow and would get too long to comfortably rear face. Some of these convertible seats will even convert to a booster seat for older kids.
To make this recommendation, the AAP focused on a 2007 study in the journal Injury Prevention. It found a whopping 75% of children under age two are less likely to die or be severely injured in a crash if they face the fear of the backseat. Researchers found that rear-facing child safety seats better support the head, neck and spine of infants and toddlers in a crash. The force of the collision is distributed over the entire body.
How does this work?
From How-To-Safety's article on rear facing car seats, children's bodies are very different from adults and are more susceptible to catastrophic damage in a car crash. This is because until about age six, a child's spine has not completely fused.
The vertebrae of young children are not developed enough to protect the spinal cord during a crash. When forward facing, in a frontal collision, the weight of the head combined with the immature skeleton, can cause the spinal cord to stretch up to 2 inches, while serious injury can occur at just 1/4 of an inch stretch. This often results in internal decapitation and causes paralysis or death.
When rear facing, in a frontal crash, the car seat decelerates the child’s body by spreading the crash forces over the back of the seat, where there is greatest surface area to absorb the forces. When forward facing, the forces are concentrated over the harness to hard points (shoulder and pelvis) of the skeletal structure.
I know it's tough to keep kids happy in cars sometimes. It can seem like the only thing that soothes them to sleep when they're infants and a fate worse than death to go for a car ride as a toddler. Parents have thus been known to issue their own complaints about rear-facing seats beyond age one, such as:
You try getting this screaming kid into a rear-facing car seat
I can't see my child if he's facing backwards
My child gets carsick. Or bored. Or loud.
It's tough, but let me just say one quick phrase that should help you recommit to sticking with the rear-facing seats: internal decapitation.
Bellingham has several convenient locations in which parents can meet with a certified car seat inspector in Whatcom County. These inspectors are trained in proper installation for all car seats, including convertible car seats.
Parents know their most precious cargo rely on them to make the best decisions for their care. And if you are in a tough spot because of a car crash, call me. You will need an experienced lawyer to help unravel the mess of the claims process so that you can get the settlement you deserve.
Click here for more on infant car seat safety.