Car Seat Safety: Is Extended Rear Facing for You?

Suzanne Murray
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One question a lot of moms have about car seats is "When can I turn my baby around so he's facing forward in the car?" Yesterday, I talked to momof2luvsshoes, a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician, and she answered that question with information on the 1 year/20lb. rule, state laws, and manufacturer's recommendations.

But different moms do different things when it comes to raising their kids. Today I'm talking to Gzalez, mom to a 5-year-old and a 4-month-old, to find out why she's so passionate about extended rear-facing car seats.

You don't like the 1year/20lb. rule. Why not?
It was an excellent idea back when car seats only rear faced to 20 pounds. We can now accommodate babies rear facing for longer, yet the 1 year and 20 pounds rule has been so ingrained into everyone it seems to have stuck. It's an easy number to remember but it is no longer recommended, it's just a minimum standard—it isn't the safest. Nothing magical happens on a child's first birthday or when they hit the 20 pound mark that makes him or her able to withstand the forces of a crash.

Instead, you practice what is called "extended rear facing." Can you please explain what that means and why you do it?
Extended rear facing is keeping your baby rear facing beyond 1 year and 20 pounds, up to the limits of a convertible car seat. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends extended rear facing as well as all other injury prevention research institutions. There is no research that contradicts the fact that rear facing is safer—even in rear-end collisions. None. Here's the AAP policy: "If a car safety seat accommodates children rear facing to higher weights, for optimal protection, the child should remain rear facing until reaching the maximum weight for the car safety seat, as long as the top of the head is below the top of the seat back."

So how did you determine when your kids can face forward?
When they reach the weight limits of the convertible seat or there is no longer 1 inch of car seat shell above the top of their head. My oldest was 28 months old and my youngest will be turned when she reaches the maximum weight and/or height limits of her seat, regardless of age.

Do you think there should be a federal law regulating rear-facing car seats?

Not at this time. I think parents should be more open to educating themselves on car seat safety and be more proactive in preventing the number one cause of death in children. More education is needed before more laws are enacted. If people understand the reasons behind regulations, they are more likely to comply with them. I believe a mass educational campaign similar to the SIDS Prevention, "Back to Sleep" campaign would be the most beneficial at this time.

So is a mom (rather than a regulation) the best person to determine when her baby is ready to sit facing forward?

Not always, but I think parents should have the right to make decisions for their family.  I do think some regulations are necessary but the more regulated our society becomes, the less people are able to think for themselves.

How would you respond to people who say you keep your baby rear facing too long and she'd be totally fine if you turned her around at 1 yr/20 lbs?
I'm sure she would be fine unless we are in a crash. However, she wouldn't be protected to the best of my ability. Tragedy can happen regardless of what you do to prevent it. If one of my children's lives are taken in a crash, I want to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I have exhausted all my options for their safety and there's nothing more I could have done.

Are you familiar with your state's law on car seats?

Yes, and they are grossly inadequate as far as safety goes—as are most state laws.  State laws vary greatly and do not reflect the safest way to transport children.

Do you have a favorite car seat brand?
I prefer Britax for their quality and safety. They exceed US crash test standards and issue recalls promptly, before any children have been injured. There are other manufacturers who have refused to issue recalls even after multiple death and injury lawsuits regarding faulty design of their seats—that says a lot about the integrity of a company. But manufacturers have come a long way in the past few years and good car seats that accommodate children over 40 pounds in a 5 point harness are available and affordable. All convertible seats rear face for 30 to 35 pounds. You no longer need to spend $300 or more to keep your kids safer! The best car seat is the one that fits your car, fits your child, fits your budget and that you will use correctly every single trip.

You are so well-informed. How do you know so much about car seats?
When I was pregnant with my first child, I began to research car seat safety and was completely amazed at the amount of information available—information that I had never heard of before. I have been involved in child passenger safety as either a technician or an advocate for going on six years now. I used to keep a 200-page binder filled with research and car seat safety information from legitimate sources in my car just in case I needed a reference to back up why I kept my child rear facing for so long!

Anything else you'd like to add?
I often hear people say, "My doctor told me it was okay to turn my baby around." That statement always makes me cringe. I wish the medical community was up to date on the current recommendations. My husband is a family physician and sees patients of all ages. I can assure you that education regarding car seat safety and research is not required of physicians. They are taught the minimum standard of 1 year and 20 pounds. They are never told it is okay to forward face a child early. Once a physician is educated on the safety benefits and has read all the peer reviewed research, they tend to change their point of view rather quickly.

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.

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