The American Academy of Pediatrics is changing the guidelines for determining how long a child should be in a rear-facing car seat.
Previously, the AAP recommendation was for children to ride in rear-facing car seats until at least ae 2. However, the new guideline removes the age-specific milestone to turn the seat around and basis it off the child’s height and weight. Officials explain in the report that children should remain in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat.
“Fortunately, car seat manufacturers have created seats that allow children to remain rear-facing until they weigh 40 pounds or more, which means most children can remain rear-facing past their second birthday,” said Benjamin Hoffman, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement and chair of the AAP Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention. “It’s best to keep your child rear-facing as long as possible. It is still the safest way for children to ride.”
Officials note that when a child rides rear-facing, the head, neck, and spine are all supported by the hard shell of the car safety seat, allowing the car seat to absorb most of the crash forces, and protecting the most vulnerable parts of the body. When children ride forward-facing, their bodies are restrained by the harness straps, but their heads – which for toddlers are disproportionately large and heavy – are thrown forward, possibly resulting in spine and head injuries.
While parents often look forward to transitioning from one state or milestone to the next, in car seats, AAP experts explain that this is one area where transitions are not necessarily “positive,” and where delaying transitions is best. Officials add that the risk of death or serious injury is lowered by more than 70% when using the proper car seat for the child. Additionally, experts add children younger than 13 years old should be in the vehicle’s back seat.
- Infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat. Most convertible seats have limits that will allow children to ride rear-facing for 2 years or more.
- Once they are facing forward, children should use a forward-facing car safety seat with a harness for as long as possible, until they reach the height and weight limits for their seats. Many seats can accommodate children up to 65 pounds or more.
- When children exceed these limits, they should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle’s lap and shoulder seat belt fits properly. This is often when they have reached at least 4 feet 9 inches in height and are 8 to 12 years old.
- When children are old enough and large enough to use the vehicle seat belt alone, they should always use lap and shoulder seat belts for optimal protection.
- All children younger than 13 years should be restrained in the rear seats of vehicles for optimal protection.
Most important is to use a car seat for every trip, Dr. Hoffman said. “Car crashes remain a leading cause of death for children. Over the last 10 years, 4 children under 14 and younger died each day. We hope that by helping parents and caregivers use the right car safety seat for each and every ride that we can better protect kids, and prevent tragedies,” said Dr. Hoffman.