A new policy (April 2011) by colleagues at the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends what I have been discussing for a while now: children up to age two should remain in rear-facing safety seats.
The new policy is supported by research that shows children younger than 2 are 75% less likely to die or be severely injured in a crash if they are rear-facing.
So how did we get here? Original recommendations (established in 2009), I had followed with my own patients. I discussed turning the car seat to a forward facing position if the child had reached 12 months and 20 pounds.
Then in April, an article was published (Inj Prev. 2007;13:398-402), which was the first U.S. data to substantiate the benefits of toddlers riding rear facing until they are two years of age. This study showed that children under the age of two are 75 percent less likely to die or experience a serious injury when they are riding in a rear-facing. That is a fairly compelling statistic to keep that car seat rear-facing for another year!
Studies have shown that rear-facing seats are more likely to support the back, neck, head and pelvis because the force of a crash is distributed evenly over the entire body. Toddlers between the ages of 12 and 23 months who ride rear facing are more than five times safer than toddlers in that same age group who ride forward-facing in a car seat. There has also been concern that rear-facing toddlers whose feet reach the back of the seat are more likely to suffer injuries to the lower extremities in a car accident. But a commentary written by Dr. Marilyn Bull in Pediatrics (2008;121:619-620) dispelled the myth with documentation that lower extremity injuries were rare with rear-facing seats.
So, it has now been over two years since this data was published and recommended, and parents continue to say, "I just turned the seat around any way" or "I didn't know." I did go look at car-seats the other day and I noted that the labeling on the boxes had all been changed to recommend rear facing until two years or until a toddler reaches the maximum height and weight recommendations for the model. I take this to mean that some "small" toddlers could even rear face longer as they do in some European countries.
For safety sake, rather than convenience, keep that car seat in the rear facing position. I wonder if they will begin putting DVD players and cup holders facing toward these toddlers, as that seemed to be a concern of many parents. Maybe this will make it "okay" to listen to music or talk while in the car rather than watching TV, at least until a child is older!!
If you need references on car seats go to http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov or http://www.seatcheck.org