New Car Seat Rules Mean You May Be Doing It Wrong

Not advised for moving car
The National Transportation Safety Board -- the people forced to sort through the wreckage and carnage of plane and train crashes -- are having their annual meeting in Washington, and most of the attention is going to the fact that they want to make air travel both safer and pricier for the parents of babies and toddlers.

But cars remain more dangerous than planes (more on that later), and they want to make this the year of child safety across all modes of getting around. That means a big push on car seat rules, and maybe new doses of car seat guilt.

They aren't being terribly specific about what they intend. But the push is definitely toward requiring that kids be kept rear-facing for longer. Maybe much, much, longer. Like years.


Now the prevailing advice, and in many cases law, is rear-facing until at least 1 year old and 20 pounds, as most of you safety hounds know. But in places like Sweden, kids often ride backward until 4, and it's clear a lot of the American experts think that should be the law here.

The thought of this makes me sad for sentimental reasons: Many of my best memories of my kid when she was 2 and 3 are of her lip-syncing along with Willie Nelson or Raffi in my rearview. So much so that I vowed to get a video camera installed in the car if I have another kid. Combine that with the fact that there are few things more frustrating than a backward-facing screaming baby that you can't reach or even distract, and you feel like scrapping the whole idea. But they're not just recommending it to be busybodies. Toddlers in rear-facing seat are five times safer, studies are showing.

If this seems like ridiculous overkill, don't worry. No matter how hard the NTSB or anybody tries, we just don't do big drastic change in America. We still use paper dollar bills and English measurements, for God's sake.

Or as pediatrician Alisa Baer told NPR on the NTSB rear-facing car seat changes, "The United States is a society that doesn't like to be told what to do."

Of course no amount of rear-facing, forward-facing, or taking a half-hour to smugly and snugly install a car seat to perfection is a substitute for just plain not driving. That's how the Swedes really keep their kids safe. Yeah, the world is built for cars in most places, and there's simply no choice. But when it's possible, subways, buses, and yes your feet are the best thing you can do for your kid's well-being. But has anyone ever made this choice based on safety? Has anyone ever said, "I'm going to run to Trader Joe's, but driving's too dangerous, so we're walking"?

If any food or toy had a tenth of the danger of a quick ride in the car, it would be recalled, then banned forever.

Ben Hoffman, a professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, puts it well to NPR:

I think we've become immune to this. I think it happens so frequently and with such regularity that we've lost focus on how important it is. And I think that we're so reliant on cars to get us from Point A to Point B that we've sort of accepted it as the price of doing business.

Or as Jerry Seinfeld used to say, leave it to human beings to invent the helmet, instead of just not doing the stuff that cracks your head open.

Oh and back to that bit about the safety of planes versus cars, and where it comes from. If you believe the Freakonomics guys, it's almost entirely because planes are faster. One hour in a plane and one hour in a car hold about the same danger of dying, but New York to LA in six hours by air or four days by car makes it far more dangerous to drive.

What do you think of extended rear-facing rules?


Image via Flickr/medigerati

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