If you’re anything like us, you may be a little anxious to turn that car seat around and start getting to see your little one face to face. It’s a much better sight than the back of that massive contraption in your second row or your child reflected back to you in a mirror. But today doctors and experts are pushing parents to keep their kids rear-facing for longer than ever before. Up to their second birthday.
Our pediatrician said to us – in effect – “it’s safer to have their legs cramped up than to have them risk a neck injury in a crash.”
At 15 months we’re still rear-facing, but according to a new study from the University of Michigan, many parents are turning before their child is even one year old. I’ll admit it certainly is a more enjoyable ride for them and us, as we can actually communicate with them. But does convenience trump safety?
For parents of slightly older kids this may sound a bit of an extreme. It wasn’t until March 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated its guidelines for child safety. Extending their recommendations for rear-facing from one year and 20 pounds in weight to a minimum of two years old and outgrowing the weight/height limits of their rear facing seat.
So for the study that was conducted as part of the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health. The researchers asked parents when they changed positions in two separate surveys in 2011 and 2013. According to a recent press release, here’s what they found.
- 33% of parents of 1-to 4 year old children who had been turned to face forward had done so at or before 12 months.
- Just 16% reported turning their child’s seat at 2 years or older.
- 24% of parents of 1- to 4-year-old children who had been turned to face forward made the switch at or before 12 months.
- Only 23% reported waiting to turn until the child was 2 years old or older.
“So we’ve seen some improvement, with a higher proportion of parents reporting that they are waiting longer to make the switch to a forward-facing car seat. However, almost one-quarter of parents are turning their children before their first birthday,” says lead author Michelle L. Macy, M.D., M.S., of the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. “And few parents report waiting until that second birthday to make the turn.”
The concern is not just from caregivers but should also be from parents. Motor-vehicle collisions are a leading cause of death among children younger than 4 years and the leading cause of death among older children in the United States, according to the release. In part, because 20 percent of 1- to 3-year-olds and nearly half of 4- to 7-year-olds do not use the recommended restraint for their age.
“There are lots of reasons why parents are eager to change from the rear-facing to forward-facing seat: the perception their children are too large, the desire to see their children when driving, and a greater ease of removing their children from a forward facing seat,” says Macy. “But delaying the switch can make a big difference. In Sweden it is culturally accepted that children up to age 4 are in rear-facing seats and child traffic fatalities are among the lowest in the world.”
We rely heavily on our pediatrician for standards and when we should consider turning our car seat. Doctors and instruction manuals are some of the top resources for parents to find information about when to switch. As recommendations and standards change, industry and medical professionals should continue to be a great option to ask questions and be informed. Asking friends or peer groups will likely yield a wide variety of answers as it’s often is a personal decision. Though medical experts are trying to keep parents thinking about it for much longer.
How long will you wait to turn your car seat forward? Already turned? What made the decision for you? Share your comments below.