Rear Facing: Just The Facts

Did you know that September is Child Passenger Safety Month? Every day we get into the car with our children. We may be headed to bring them to school, run errands, visit family and friends or to just grab a bite to eat. Whether it be a short trip to the store, or a longer day trip we want to be sure that we our traveling with our children in the safest manner possible! Unfortunately, statistics state that car crashes are the leading cause of death and injury to children in the United States ages 1 to 12. As parents it is our job to ensure that they are protected to the best of our ability! Is rear facing and extended rear facing (ERF) the safest way to strap them in? Let’s take a look at the facts.

A previous AAP policy from 2002 stated that it was safest for infants and toddlers to ride rear-facing up to the limits of the car seat. But it also cited age 12 months and 20 pounds as a minimum for switching them to face forward. The current recommendation advises parents to keep their toddlers in rear-facing car seats until they are 2 years old, or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their particular seat. As parents it is instinctual to look forward to the milestones or transitions of your little ones. This has long since included a child turning one and flipping their car seat around. However, this is one transition that you don’t want to rush! All the facts point to playing it safe and waiting until the child fully outgrows the limits for his or her current stage.


The Facts

  • Rear facing is 5 times safer than forward facing
  • Forward facing children under the age of 2 are 75% more likely to be injured in a car accident
  • The British Medical Journal published a report in June 2009 stating that rear facing seats are safer than forward facing seats for children under 4
  • Frontal and frontal offset car crashes are the most common & most dangerous sort of accident
  • During a frontal crash, in a forward facing seat the neck is subjected to a force equivalent to 600-700 pounds, while in a rear facing seat, the force on the neck is equivalent to 110 pounds
  • When a child is forward facing during frontal collisions they are flung forward in the seat and caught by the harness. This puts stress on the neck, the spine, and the internal organs
  • Stretching and snapping of the spinal column can result in paralysis or death and is referred to as internal decapitation
  • Until around 3 years old children have spines that are made of soft bone and cartilage and their spinal column can stretch up to two inches
  • A child’s neck only needs to stretch a quarter of an inch before snapping
  • There are no reported incidents of rear facing children hurting their legs
  • Rear-facing car seats are NOT a safety risk just because a child’s legs are bent at the knees or because they can touch/kick the vehicle seat
  • Rear-facing as long as possible is the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatricians, and reduces the risk of injuries and deaths

Disspelling the Myths

Myth: My child is too big
Nowadays, almost every convertible car seat (inexpensive ones included) is able to accommodate even very big toddlers rear facing until at least the age of 2. The AAP chose the age of 2 for their recommended minimum age to go forward facing because at two years 95 percent of 24-month-olds weigh 35 pounds or less. Almost every convertible seat goes rear facing until at least 35 pounds.

Myth: If an accident occurs they will break their leg
Statistics show that forward facing kids actually break their legs more often in crashes than rear facing kids. However, A broken leg is much easier to fix than brain and spinal cord injuries which are typically unfixable. Toyota & Diono_20140909_IMG_1209-2

Myth: My child’s legs are too long
Your child has flexible joints which make riding rear facing perfectly comfortable. Think about this: Your 6-month-old will happily sucks his toes, and your 18-month-old plays happily sitting on the floor with his legs in a pretzel shape. The same is true for sitting in their car seat. Chances are that your child will cross their legs, prop them up on the seat back, or hang them over the sides of the seat with no problem at all.

Myth: Extended rear facing car seats are more expensive
The great news is you don’t have to break the bank to get a great seat that can rear face up to 40lbs. Check out the the Cosco, Britax and Graco – all rear face and accommodate to at least 35 lbs, plus they all come in at under $150!

Myth: My pediatrician said it was okay
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends rear facing until a minimum of two years of age. Unfortunately, doctors are not always up to date on all the latest changes for child safety. Also, car seat safety is not a topic that usually comes up in medical school. Your doctor is technically correct if they tell you that it is legal to forward face at 1 year and 20 lbs. It is obviously safer to rear face even past age 2.

Children are NOT Small Adults

A child’s proportions are not the same as an adult’s. Their heads carry 25% of their bodyweight and their skeleton has not yet been solidified into bone. Rather, their skeleton is still soft, mainly consisting of cartilage. The ribcage of an adult is more capable of protecting their vital organs. However, when a small child is in a forward facing seat and flung against the harness, their ribcage is not optimally able to protect their organs. Also, since the spine is softer and has not solidified it may stretch and snap. The only thing left to prevent internal decapitation is bone marrow.

Still Unsure?

Check out this video that shows a computer animated collision, and how the forward facing child’s body reacts compared to a rear facing child.

When To Switch Your Child

The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends that children should stay rear facing until they have outgrown the seat requirements. Your child will outgrow rear facing when they have surpassed either the rear facing weight or height limit for that seat. Unless they have surpassed these limits prior, age two is earliest you should consider switching them. By their fourth birthday the ossification of the spine is considerably more mature than a toddler’s. Your child’s head is also much more in proportion with the rest of their body. Therefore their bodies will be better able to handle the force of the crash. Armed with the facts, we hope that you can now understand that rear facing, and specifically Extended Rear Facing is not a fad! The more you educate yourself on the facts, the better protected your child will be!

Stay tuned!

Next week we will be bringing you the top Extended Rear Facing Car Seats!

For more information on keeping your child safe in the car check out “5 common carseat mistakes”

Photo Credits: The Art of Making A Baby, Its A Logical Life

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Jessica is a holistic health counselor and work from home mom living in the middle of nowhere USA with her sweet little boy! She suffers from a serious case of compulsive globe-trotting and is always counting the days until her next move or adventure. You can often find her trying to get in her exercise in by lunging through the park while chasing after her very energetic little boy! She is constantly fueled and energized by her love for healthy eating and occasionally copious amounts of caffeine.

Comments (3)

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    What about rear accidents? Did they study to see what happens when a car carrying a child in a rear facing car seat is hit from from behind?


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      We have a follow up post coming out exactly about that


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    “The AAP chose the age of 2 for their recommended minimum age to go forward facing because at two years 95 percent of 24-month-olds weigh 35 pounds or less. Almost every convertible seat goes rear facing until at least 35 pounds.”

    What? That’s not right at all. Or maybe this is just badly worded? They didn’t choose that age because of weight or because most seats will RF until 35 pounds.


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