When teaching prenatal classes I spend a lot of time talking about car seat safety; how long children should be in specialized car seats, when to move from one seat to another, how to ensure the seat is installed correctly, etc. I talk about it because being safe in cars is something that has always been in my mind, as the daughter of an auto body technician whose shop was on our property while growing up AND because I am a certified child restraint technician. It is often surprising that almost every car seat set up that I have inspected over the last 10+ years has had something about it that wasn’t safe.
The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) instructs that all children should remain rear facing until they reach the highest weight or height allowed for the child's seat. Yes that means that some children will have their legs bunched up and they may even be somewhat uncomfortable but safety is paramount.
I can't tell you how often have I heard parents complain to me that they think their child needs to move to a forward facing position because they are “bored” facing backwards. What I want to know is why their baby finds the back of the front seat more entertaining than the front of the back seat? It isn’t as though a baby can see out the window.
WHY IS A REAR FACING CAR SEAT SAFER FOR A CHILD?
When a child is rear-facing their heads, necks, shoulders and torsos are supported by the hard shell of the frame of the car seat. In the event of a collision, for the vast majority of collisions, the impact is therefore absorbed by the seat and is spread across the head, neck, shoulders and torso thus causing less overall trauma. When we put toddlers in a forward-facing car seat then it is simply their torso that we well secured to the seat in a collision. Parents often forget that toddlers have a disproportionately heavy head until their bodies stretch out in height, so the weight of the head puts a considerable strain on the neck and shoulders when it snaps forward in a collision thus causing significantly more trauma and injury.
The AAP’s findings note: “When an accident occurs and a child is rear facing the force of the accident is distributed evenly over the entire body, forward facing children, because the force of the car crash is concentrated on seat belt contact points, can suffer from neck and head injuries because children’s necks are weak and their heads are disproportionately large for their little necks.”
Why would parents not want to keep their child rear facing?
One reason I can think of is that it *is* more frustrating trying to get them into the seat. It takes more physical power to get our babies over the seat’s edge and into place. Also, tightening the straps can be slightly more challenging when the seat is in the way of the leverage needed to pull the straps tighter. Beyond that my only guess is that a parent is able to feel more confident that their baby is okay while riding in the car when the parent can look in the mirror and see them. Fair enough, I guess. Unfortunately, the reality is that if we can see the baby in a mirror then we are more likely, especially in the event that our child is unhappy, to pay more attention to the baby then to driving safely. (That reason alone is precisely why parents should NEVER have a little mirror attached to the head rest behind baby or on the rear window so that baby can be observed by the driver. Statistically speaking the risk of an auto collision caused by the parents is higher when they have the opportunity to pay more attention to the baby than the road.)
Now the question becomes where to find rear-facing seats that will support the weight of your toddler. There are several convertible infant/child seats on the market. When shopping I encourage you to consider the following:
• Upper weight limit for the rear-facing position ** • Price range and warranty • Ability to change/re-thread straps as needed • How easy it is to tighten the straps while rear-facing
WHAT IS THE AVERAGE WEIGHT OF A ONE OR TWO YEAR OLD CHILD? **
It is not uncommon for a one year old to be anywhere from 18-22 lbs. although I have met many very healthy 30 lbs one year olds. What about a child at the age of two? It is conceivable that a two year old – although usually not more than 30-35 lbs and often not even that heavy – could be as heavy at 40 lbs. Because you do not know what to expect in terms of the weight of your child you have to consider all possibilities.
Having done some research online (and understand please that this list changes often) the current top 10 rear-facing car seats based on safety ratings are:
Britax Frontier ClickTight
Graco 4Ever DLX
Diono Radian RXT
Evenflo Symphony DLX All-in-One
Safety 1st Grow and Go 3-in-1
Maxi-Cosi Magellan Max
A link to find out more information about these seats is on the Top 10 Best Car Seats page here. All of these seats are safe in a rear-facing position until at least 35 lbs with many safe up to 40 lbs!
The seats listed above are some that are available here in Canada. I can’t speak to product availability or restrictions in the US or in other countries.
Suffice it to say that I am VERY excited about the news that an organization whose whole focus is to make our children as safe and healthy as they can possibly be has decided to tackle this important issue. I hope they continue on this path and strive to educate the masses about how to make safe car seat choices for children.
It should be noted that the Ontario Highway Traffic Act now states that babies/children must be in a rear-facing car seat until they are at least 20 lbs.