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Go Ask Mom

Kids safest in rear-facing seats until age 2

Posted March 21, 2011
Updated June 28, 2011

I wanted to alert you to some new recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

They're recommending today that children ride in rear-facing car seats longer, until they are 2 instead of 1. And, according to the pediatrics group:

"Children should transition from a rear-facing seat to a forward-facing seat with a harness, until they reach the maximum weight or height for that seat. Then a booster will make sure the vehicle’s lap-and-shoulder belt fit properly. The shoulder belt should lie across the middle of the chest and shoulder, not near the neck or face. The lap belt should fit low and snug on the hips and upper thighs, not across the belly. Most children will need a booster seat until they have reached 4 feet 9 inches tall and are between 8 and 12 years old.

Children should ride in the rear of a vehicle until they are 13 years old."

The groups have some data to back up their recommendations. A 2007 study found that children under age 2 are 75 percent less likely to die or be severely injured in a crash if they are riding rear-facing.

You can read more about the new guidelines in these sources:

I turned my older daughter's car seat around a few months after her first birthday, which was the norm six years ago.

But over the years, I'd heard other recommendations that tots stay rear-facing for as long as possible. recommends that children stay rear-facing until well over a year old and as close to 30 to 35 pounds as possible.

I'd always wondered how that would work - logistically - as a one-year-old's legs got longer and longer. But I figured safety comes first so I still have my 18-month-old rear-facing in her car seat. Her legs are a bit squashed against the back seat, but it doesn't seem to bother her at all.

And since we're on the same topic, if you're wondering if your child's safety seat is installed correctly, lists local places that will check it for free.

Anybody planning on turning your car seats back around or putting your 10-year-old in the booster seat again?


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  • kittiboo Mar 21, 2011

    I work carpool duty at the school where I teach, and you wouldn't believe the number of little kids who are allowed to ride in the front seat. You also wouldn't believe the kids whose carseats are not installed correctly (or even strapped in at all!) or who aren't even made to at least buckle their seatbelt. It makes me crazy!

  • kech01 Mar 21, 2011

    This is fabulous!!! My son just turned 8 today and he was harnessed till about 6 months ago. He will remain in his booster till he outgrows it. My daughter is 5 years old. She was rear facing until she was 4 years7months when she hit the weight limit. Age is far more important than size. A 30lbs 2 year old has the same bone structure as a 20lb or 50lbs 2 year old. The spine doesnt begin to fuse together until between 4-6 years of age, until then, kids are safer rear facing

  • bikely Mar 21, 2011

    I think this guideline should go more on size and less on age. My children are both above 99% on the growth chart, so I have just been using my own judgement on many things, car seats included, all along.
    My 9 yr old is 5 ft tall, so no, he's not going back into a booster seat....and he does sit in the front seat sometimes, if we have a backseat full of preschoolers....

  • shall6 Mar 21, 2011

    And thanks for that email :) ... I found the last bit in the NYT article interesting as it addresses my initial concern about legs - a pediatrician says in that article that children are not more likely to break their legs in a crash if they are rear facing. My younger daughter sits the same way - cross-legged usually. And she's no crankier in the car seat than my older daughter was sitting forward facing at that age.

    Thanks again!

  • righthere1234 Mar 21, 2011

    YAY!!!! I'm so glad you posted this (I emailed you earlier about it).

    My son is 4, and we turned his seat around at 1. I had no clue about ERF back then. Right now he is still harnessed, and it will be awhile before I move to the high back booster. My daughter is 13 months, and we plan to ERF to her seat's max. A lot of moms I've talked to said as their kids get older and the legs get longer, then the child either drapes their legs over the side of the seat or sits cross-legged. I'd much rather have my child's leg broken than his/her neck.

    I'm not sure how I feel about the booster seat recommendations (they're not law, just recommendations!). I think the booster seat issue is rather open and vague because all kids grow differently. I have a few years before I need to address it though, and I'm sure by then the "rules" will have changed.