Car Seat Safety: When Can My Baby Face Forward?

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car seat safety 1 year 20 pounds rear facing forward facing baby

Go to Safe Kids to find your state's

car seat law and other safety information

All this week in the Baby Buzz, the Toddler Buzz, the Pregnancy Buzz, and the Big Kid Buzz, we'll be talking about car seats and even giving some away. Yesterday, I learned that my baby shouldn't be wearing her coat in her car seat. Who knew?

Today, I'm talking to momof2luvsshoes, a member of Safe Kids who is a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician, and mom to two little boys, to try to put an end to my confusion about when exactly my baby can face forward in the car. 

Is there a federal law that says whether baby car seats should be rear or forward facing?
No, these recommendations or laws are governed by each state respectively.
 
So what is the 1 year/20 lb. rule I keep hearing about—and who made it?

This recommendation means that a child should not face forward in any type of child restraint until he reaches 1 year old and 20 pounds in weight. He must be both, otherwise he should be rear facing. The recommendation comes from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

If it's not a law, then I don't have to follow it if I don't want to?
Car seat laws vary from state to state—the 1 year/20 lb.rule is not a law in every state, but some states do mandate it. Because some states have fallen behind the times, more and more car seat manufacturers are putting these bare minimum recommendations in their car seat manuals. Also, some states have a proper use clause which basically means if a parent has not used their child restraint properly per the manufacturer (i.e. forward facing a child too soon) and that child is injured or killed, the parent can be held liable and taken to court.

How can I find out what the law concerning car seats is in my state?
Go to www.usa.safekids.org. On the right hand side toward the bottom of the page, there's a box where you can type in your state to find its latest child safety laws and regulations. Other options would be to go to your state's highway patrol website, your state's government website, or your state's Department of Transportation website.  There are a lot of places online that give out this information but more times than not, they are wrong in some way and outdated.

I'm confused because there is the state law and then the car seat manufacturer also puts weight and height restrictions on their car seats. Which recommendations should I follow?
Parents should be familiar with their state's laws but also should know that those are the bare minimums. I suggest you go with the higher, safer recommendation. If the law says a child can face forward at a year and 20 pounds, but the car seat says not to face it forward until at least a year and 22 pounds (and possibly a certain height), then go with the manufacturer's recommendation.

What do you think about the 1 year/20 lb. rule?
I don't support it. I've seen statistics, researched until my eyes were bloodshot, and read studies that prove it's safer to ride rear facing—especially for children under three. It’s not just about weight and age. It’s about the child's body structure, how that child’s bones fuse together, and what kind of impact their fragile spinal cord can withstand in a crash. A child's spine does not fuse together until approximately age three and his spinal cord can rupture if it's stretched a mere ¼ inch. I would much rather see recommendations raised to a minimum of 18 months and 25 pounds, or possibly two years and 30 pounds. The 1 yr/20 lb. rule is outdated. It is the bare minimum. And it's generally practiced by those who don't know how dangerous it can be in any type of crash.

When do you think it is safe for a baby to be forward facing?
When the baby maxes out the convertible car seat’s rear facing limits. Most convertible car seats on the market have a rear facing limit of 30, 33, or 35 pounds. The length of a baby is not the key here. As long as that child is not over the weight limit and has at least 1 inch of space from the top of his head to the top of the car seat shell he should not forward face.

But what if a baby's feet are touching the backseat of the car or her legs are bent, does this mean she's outgrown the car seat? Can she be turned around to face forward even if she isn't 1 year and 20 pounds?
No. It's fine if the baby’s feet are touching the backseat. Most children find it much more comfortable to have their legs bent, crossed, or propped up rather than hanging. I believe any parent would rather have their child suffer from a broken leg or ankle than a ruptured spinal column or broken neck.

How can you tell if your baby has outgrown its car seat?
A baby has outgrown a car seat when one of these things happens: The child's weight is over the maximum weight for the seat or the child has less than 1 inch of space from the top of the head to the top of the shell of the seat.

Are you confused about car seats and your baby's safety? What would you like to know?

Check back here and on the other parenting channels all this week for more info on car seats.

This information is intended as general guidance—you should read your auto and car seat manuals, and consult a certified technician if possible, for the proper use and installation of your child’s passenger seat.



baby gear, safety