Updated: Sep 20, 2021
When I decided to start a blog for parents, I knew one of the topics I wanted to talk about early was car seat safety, and specifically, why rear facing is so important. When I became a Child Passenger Safety Technician, my instructor explained that rear facing is the best position for everyone in a car, but obviously, car manufactures haven’t figured out a way to allow us to drive backward yet.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends kids rear-face in a vehicle for as long as possible. So much so they recommend parents to max out the rear facing height and weight on their car seat before turning the child front facing.
Every car seat manufacturer that makes rear-facing seats places a label on the side of the seat and in the car seat manual outlining the max rear-facing height and weight. It is important to note that infant seats (like this one we used) ONLY rear face. They cannot front face under any circumstances. This is why I recommend convertible car seats (like this one) to parents when their child is close to outgrowing their infant seat. They are worth the money because they can rear face and front face, and they often offer high-back booster transitions too. Many of them offer a higher rear-facing height and weight max (like the Graco seat linked above), so your child can ride safer for a longer time.
Why is rear facing so much safer? It comes down to two factors – the force of a crash and the anatomy of a child. Let’s use an example of a car hitting a telephone pole. When the car strikes the pole, there is a force that is spread throughout the car and everything inside of it. The force is determined by speed, car size, and point of impact. This is why accidents are so dangerous when a car goes from a high rate of speed to a sudden stop. As the force of the impact occurs, everything that is unrestrained in the car will continue to move at the speed the car was going prior to impact. So, when a child is front facing, the car seat and harness protect the child from propelling forward and distribute the force to the strongest parts of the body – the chest and hips. However, it leaves the head and neck vulnerable. In an older child this is less risky because their neck and spine are more developed. But, in smaller children, the neck and spine are still developing, so the ligaments are looser. Also, their heads are typically large for their body size. The weight of their head and loose ligaments creates an opportunity for a dangerous back-and-forth neck movement that could lead to spinal cord injury. How does rear facing prevent this? When a child is rear facing, the force of the impact is spread across the shell of the car seat which protects their neck and spine from the deadly whiplash movement.
One thing I hear fairly often when parents want to forward face their child is that they are worried about leg injuries if they were to get into an accident and their child was rear facing. But, the American Academy of Pediatrics has done extensive research on this topic and found that there is not an increased risk of leg injuries when a child is rear facing. And even if there was, leg injuries are easier to treat and have better outcomes than spinal cord injuries.
Something else I hear often is that forward facing is more convenient especially if the child is older. And as a mom I totally love anything convenient. But let’s compare this to mealtimes. My kid loves Cheerios. It was one of his first words. He’d literally eat them every day for every meal. And I love them because they are super convenient. But, as convenient as they are, he doesn’t get them for every meal? Why? Because it’s best for him to have a balanced diet with a variety of foods. And just like a balanced diet is best, so is rear-facing.
Car seats are one of my favorite topics, and I’m especially passionate when talking about the importance of extended rear facing. I could write a blog every day about it, but it’s truly because as a pediatric emergency department nurse, I have seen it save lives. If you have questions or want to talk more about rear facing versus front facing, book an installation with me. I’ll answer all your questions and make sure your car seat is installed correctly and ready to go. Head over to the classes page and book there!