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To Keep Kids Safer In Cars, Use Rear-Facing Seats Until Age 2


Possibly the most dangerous activity your child engages in is something you likely do with them nearly every single day: driving. 


Fortunately, advances in car seat technology have made driving safer for children today than at any other time since cars arrived on roads—as long as the seats are properly installed and drivers correctly secure children in them.



Fortunately, advances in car seat technology have made driving safer for children today than at any other time since cars arrived on roads—as long as the seats are properly installed and drivers correctly secure children in them.

Kids Stay Rear-Facing Until Age 2

The first step in checking the safety of your child’s car seat is to make sure it’s facing the right direction: if your child is under 2 years old, it should be facing the rear of the car, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations for car seat safety. (Children who reach the maximum height and weight for their seat before age 2 can face forward then.)


To educate and remind parents of the AAP recommendations, the car seat manufacturer Chicco launched the TurnAfter2 campaign last summer. The campaign aims to increase awareness about the rear-facing recommendation by urging parents to share photos online of their little ones in rear-facing seats with the hashtag #TurnAfter2.


“The hope is that by sharing images of their children rear-facing on social media with #TurnAfter2, parents will inspire constructive conversations around the topic and help educate other parents in their circle in a friendly way,” said David Hill, MD, a pediatrician and paid Chicco child passenger safety spokesperson.


Internal research from Chicco found that 72% of parents with kids 2 years old and younger don’t feel comfortable talking to other parents about keeping a car seat rear-facing—even though the same research found that 84% of parents of toddlers and babies would speak up if they saw another parent putting their child at risk. The reasons are varied but unsurprising: 16% of parents didn’t think it was their business, 14% wanted to avoid confrontation, 15% didn’t know how long kids should stay rear-facing, and 13% had turned their own children front-facing too early.


“As a father, I know firsthand how awkward and uncomfortable it can be to give or receive unsolicited parenting advice,” Hills said. “Parenting can be overwhelming, and it seems like every day brings some new study about child health or safety. But our children’s safety comes first, and we as parents should be looking out for each other to ensure that all our little ones are kept as safe as possible.”


Why Rear-Facing Is Safer

The longer a child stays rear-facing, the safer they will be during road travel, according to Benjamin Hoffman, a professor of peadiatrics at Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine in Portland and a child injury prevention specialist. Hoffman spearheaded the successful effort in Oregon to pass a law last May that requires children to remain rear-facing until age 2. Rhode Island and South Carolina passed similar laws within the past year, and a similar bill in New York is awaiting the governor’s signature. California, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Oklahoma  already had rear-facing-until-2 laws.


“Younger children tend to have relatively bigger heads, weaker necks and muscles in general and looser tendon and ligaments,” Hoffman explained. “Facing forward, the head and neck are thrown forward violently in a crash, and the same forces that can lead to whiplash in an adult can actually cause the spine of a young child to separate and injure the spinal cord.”

But the force of impact is distributed differently when a child faces the back, Hoffman explained.


“If the child is rear-facing, all of the force is spread over the entire back of the child, allowing it to be absorbed by the seat, and cradling the head and neck to prevent injuries to that most vulnerable part of our body,” he said. “Arms and legs are almost never injured when rear-facing, and because kids are naturally flexible and adaptable, we see in real practice that they can always find a comfortable position, even on long trips.”


Hoffman said three reasons tend to hold parents back when it comes to following the recommendations: they want to be sure their child is comfortable, they want to be able to see their child and milestones—such as a child feeding themselves—are usually thought of as positive.


“Car seat safety is the one place where the next step is actually not positive since kids lose protection in transitioning from rear-facing to forward-facing, from forward-facing to booster seats, and so on,” Hoffman said. “Children are not little adults, and their unique developmental needs require accommodations.”


Adapting to changing recommendations can be frustrating and challenging, Hoffman acknowledged, but a study from 2014 showed progress within the first two years after the AAP’s updated recommendations.  In that study, only 16% of parents waited until kids were 2 years old to face them forward in 2011, but that number increased to 23% in 2013 (though that means three in four parents were not rear-facing their children until age 2). Even then, however, a quarter of parents were turning their children to face forward before they turned 1. (Just over half turned their children between 13-23 months.)


“Each era has seen a shift in expectations, often driven by laws, and as parental practice patterns shift, then the norm changes, and it becomes easier for parents to do what’s best for their kids,” Hoffman said.


Fixing Other Common Car Seat Mistakes

Most improper car seat practices Hoffman sees are one of three common errors. The first is not using the right car seat in the first place.


“The first rule is to make sure that the seat is appropriate for the weight, length and developmental stage of the child, and to ensure the seat is facing the correct direction and is in the best place in the car,” Hoffman said. (The center of the back seat is best for single seats only. No car seats should be used in the front seat.)


The second common mistake he sees are harness straps that are too loose.

“They should be snug over the shoulders so that parents cannot pick up any slack between their fingers over the shoulder and collar bone,” he said. The chest clip is essential for ensuring the straps stay properly positioned in a crash and should be at the level of the armpits.”


And the most common installation problem he sees is not having the seat secured tightly enough in the car.


“When properly installed, the seat should move less than an inch side to side or front to back relative to the seat belt or lower anchors,” Hoffman said. The different ways to secure a car seat, such as choosing a seat belt or anchors, can be confusing, he added, but one tip is never to use the anchors for car seats in the middle.


“Most vehicles only have lower anchors for the seats behind the driver and passenger seats and not in the middle,” and it’s not safe to use the outer anchors for the middle, he said. Use the seatbelt for seats in the middle and ensure the fabric of the belt locks properly by pulling it out slowly from the retractor and then releasing it until it locks tightly. “In the study we did with newborns, over half the families who used the seatbelt did not lock it,” Hoffman said.


Parents can look up a certified child passenger safety technician near them (or get their own certification) to inspect their car seat installation and how their child is secured.


Detailed information on car seats from the AAP is available here, and the “ultimate car seat guide” is here. This helpful graphic explains when your child moves up to the next car safety seating arrangement. Helpful websites related to car safety include and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s thorough guide on car seats and booster seats.

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