Parents of newborn children certainly have their eye out for the next milestone in their child’s life. In kind, the excitement of taking your child out for a day at the park, to visit grandparents, or taking him or her to a friend’s house for a play date are all exciting and helpful in your child’s growth and socialization. It is important to always look out for hazards that can affect your child’s safety, and a parent should have a well thought out child safety action plan. As part of the plan, and when taking your child in a car to another destination and back, the American Academy of Pediatrics (“AAP”) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, have recently advised that parents should keep children in rear-facing car seats until at least age 2, or until the height or weight of your child exceeds the limitations found on the back of the car seat.
Car seats do keep children safe when used in accordance with safety guidelines and when appropriately secured to your car. Yet, so many parents in the excitement to mark that new milestone want to switch from rear-facing to forward -facing car seats before it is in the best interest of their child’s safety. While it is true that the AAP previously advised parents to keep children in rear-facing car seats as long as possible, within the maximum limit allowed by the seat, conventional wisdom was such that the one year mark also marked the switch from rear-facing to forward -facing car seats.
To optimize safety, your child will be safer staying in a rear-facing car seat as children under the age of 2 are substantially less likely to die or suffer catastrophic injury in an automobile accident when they are secure in a rear-facing car seat due to the superior support to the head, neck and spine. When the child is forward-facing the trunk of the child’s body and their shoulders are restrained by the harness straps, but their head and neck do not share the same support and can be forced forward in the unfortunate event of a car accident.
If your child does not reach the height or weight limit of the rear-facing car seat, keep the child rear-facing as long as possible. If your child reaches the height or weight limit before age 2, it is best to purchase a convertible car seat with a higher height or weight limit and keep the child rear-facing until they reach the limit of the new car seat. Parents will need to resist the urge to switch to forward-facing car seats even though it is easier to handle and more comfortable when watching your child from the rear-view mirror. The best child safety action plan places the safety of your child first and convenience and a parent’s preferences second. If you have specific questions as to what is best for your child consult the manufacturer’s recommendations of the car seat and your pediatrician.