Rear-Facing Car Seats Aren't Just for Babies Anymore

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My car, after my accident 
With the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommending that you rear-face your child until the bare minimum of 2 years old and the push to raise the frighteningly low law of 1 year and 20 pounds, it's no surprise that car seat safety has become a hot topic amongst moms and many are rear-facing their children until their second or third birthdays. It can be hard to understand why others don't, especially when car accidents are still the leading cause of death of children in the United States.

Every mother makes mistakes. There's so much trial and error that it's impossible not to. But when presented with good, factual information, I believe most moms are willing to forgo their ego and admit fault to make their children safer. Right? There is always more to learn, and I've compiled lots of information on rear-facing car seats to help people understand why it's such a big deal. Read on to understand and help keep your child safe.

First, let's look at a video of forward- and rear-facing car seats with test dummies in a frontal crash:

Obviously, the child in the forward-facing seat would have had injuries to the spine and likely the head -- in fact, head injury is the leading injury that causes death in car accidents in children ages 0-12. Sadly, there is an average of 4 deaths and 504 injuries to children in car accidents every single day in the US -- and there doesn't have to be. To compare, from 1992 through June 1997, only 9 children properly restrained rear-facing died in motor vehicle crashes in Sweden. Five years, 9 deaths, unsurvivable accidents. We hit that in less than two days. LESS THAN TWO DAYS.

And now for the biggest question: What about their legs?

Kids are flexible and their legs bend. They often enjoy propping their legs up or sitting cross-legged (see a gallery of ERF kids!). There are no incidents of a child's legs breaking from touching the seat, but the alternative is forward-facing and their NECK taking the impact. "Broken legs? Cast it. Broken neck? Casket." It's a no-brainer. Or your child can end up like Joel, pictured on the right. His family is doing all they can to raise awareness of ERF so other children do not have to go through what Joel is going through.

What about rear-impact accidents?

Seventy-two percent of crashes are head on, 24 percent are side-impact. That leaves only 4 percent of accidents as rear-impact. The recline in a rear-facing seat allows the body to slide along the angle of the seat, rather than the perpendicular snap that more upright children suffer. At the very least, your rear-facing child is as protected as a forward-facing one in a rear-impact crash ... but will be 500 percent safer the other 96 percent of the time. Also, in a frontal crash, if your car was going 30mph and comes to a dead stop, everyone in the car keeps going forward at 30mph. If your child hits their head, that is the same as being dropped on their head from a 3-story building. In a rear-impact accident, generally both cars are going the same direction and, when hit, the car keeps moving forward, dispersing momentum.

Why aren't we all rear-facing then?

Truth is, it would be safer if all of us could be reclined and rear-facing, but that's obviously just not possible. However, it's especially important for children, as their spine doesn't fuse into harder bone until somewhere between ages 2 to 5. The spine protects the spinal cord, and if that breaks, you die. Plain and simple. If the neck gets stretched out enough, that's internal decapitation. Ninety-eight out of 100 people who suffer this die -- when the skull separates from the spine, usually the spinal cord snaps too.

Aren't ERF car seats expensive?

Even the cheapest car seats, like the Cosco Scenera 40RF ($50) and the Graco MyRide 65 ($115), rear-face until 40 pounds -- in fact, it's hard to find a new seat anymore that doesn't. Weight isn't all that matters though, and moms of taller kids have great affordable options like the Safety First Complete Air 65 ($180) and the First Years True Fit ($130). Ask any car seat advocate and they can help you find sales, deals, and coupon codes. This is the ONLY EXPENSE in parenting that is 100 percent necessary -- no crib or Diaper Genie can save your child's life. If you have to donate blood, pawn your CDs, or borrow money to keep your child in a safe, rear-facing seat and potentially save their life, it is worth it. There are many organizations that will help too.

Why do you care what I do with my kid?

Caring about the well-being of children is healthy and good -- don't you speak up if you see a child in danger? I don't want to see even more stories like Joel's, Kyle David Miller's, Alec's, or Ysabel's, where the mother cries about how she wishes she'd known better and blames herself for her child's death. I also never want to be in the position my mother was in when she saw me in the ER after my accident, one that I have never and will never fully recover from.

 

Do you have any questions about extended rear-facing that you'd like answered? I can help! I want to help!

 

Images via Christie Haskell; Joel's Journey; Ellis Clinic

car seat safety, safety

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krist... kristinlimon

ERF is a no brainer. :) My 4 year old can still fit RF'ing in a True Fit height wise and in many seats weight wise. 

nonmember avatar Alison

Such an important article. The video makes it all so real, and understandable. Our daughter is 18 months and still rear facing. We get weird looks from people sometimes, but its all worth it :)

navyjen navyjen

Christie - As always you are a great source.  I added your post to my facebook page......

TRW3 TRW3

clapping

TippyD TippyD

shoutingglad to have a RF baby:D

Xakana Xakana

I wish I'd simply bought a new seat when Lilly was forward faced at only 24lbs and a little over a year :( Her stupid Britax had these head 'wings' that she kept getting her head on the outside of, so we turned her to keep her safe in that seat, but we should have just replaced it (and she remained rear facing in her spare seat until 33lbs, when she reached its weight limit for rear facing). Thankfully, we never had an accident and now she's too heavy to RF, but her about-to-turn-two sister is rear facing and will remain so until she's 40lbs.

lilch... lilchikkis

my son will b 3 next month and still rear facing :)

thedg... thedgoddess

YIKES! Glad you are okay after an accident like that!


We rear faced a bit longer. And we still have my 8yo in a 5 point harness.

Elizabeth Marigh

Thank you so much for posting this. I didn't know any of this. Now I know what to buy when I start having children... Thank you again...

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