As a parent, the safety of your child is your utmost priority. When you’re out running errands with a baby on board, it’s essential to make sure he or she is in the right kind of car seat.
In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its guidelines, recommending all children under the age of 2 use rear-facing car seats, regardless of weight or height. Previously, the AAP policy used an age-and-weight combo of 1 year and 20 pounds as the benchmarks for when kids were ready to face forward.
While most state laws still reflect the AAP’s old recommendations, a growing number are buckling in with child safety experts and updating legislation to match the new guidelines. Currently, eight states — California, Connecticut, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Carolina — require children under 2 be secured in rear-facing seats, and more are likely to follow.
According to AAA spokesperson Rich Romer, several states have similar bills in the works.
“New York’s bill has passed both legislatures and is awaiting the governor’s signature,” he said. “Bills were also introduced this year in other states such as Delaware, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, Texas and Washington.”
Romer said it’s important to differentiate state laws from best practices. “While laws are important, certified passenger safety technicians have been teaching the best practices, such as keeping children rear-facing longer, to parents for years.”
With the safety of so many children riding on these guidelines, it begs the question: Why is rear-facing the best option for small children?
Dr. Marilyn J. Bull, professor of pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine and AAP representative to the National Child Passenger Safety Board, said the risk of head and spine injury is much greater for infants than for adults.
“For newborns, 10 percent of their body weight is their head, and that’s not true as an adult. The force of that heavy head causes greater risk of spine injuries in children facing forward during a car accident.”
Bull, who specializes in neurodevelopmental pediatrics, explained that rear-facing car seats lessen the impact on a child’s head and neck in the event of a collision.
“In frontal crashes, which are always the most severe, the car stops, then the car seat stops and then the baby keeps going until it stops. The forces are absorbed along the whole head, neck and trunk of that child and distributed broadly along the entire torso, so the neck isn’t put in forward-facing, sudden movement.”
The AAP’s updated policy in 2011 were based on extensive, peer-reviewed research, including a paper co-authored by Bull comparing the injury risk between rear-facing and forward-facing car seats for children less than 2 years of age in the U.S. Results from the study found that rear-facing car seats had a higher effectiveness value (93 percent) for all ages and crash directions, compared to forward-facing child seats (78 percent).
When it comes to your child’s safety, it’s better to be safe than sorry, so both Bull and the AAP recommend leaving children rear-facing until they reach the highest weight and height allowed by the seat manufacturer — regardless of the child’s age.
“There’s nothing magic about age 2, or 2 years and 2 months, or 1 year and 10 months,” said Bull. “Development of the muscles, bones and ligaments is a gradual process throughout childhood.”
While the AAP doesn’t write any legislation, its policies are respected medical opinion and are often used in court and legislation discussions. As more states get on board with updating the law to reflect the latest AAP recommendations, more children will be kept out of harm’s way when the ride gets bumpy.
At NAPA, we’ve been working to keep you and your car on the road for more than 90 years. We’re hoping this advice will keep your passengers safe on the road as well. For more information on car safety, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.