Vehicle manufacturers design the safety features in their cars for adults and not children, thus all those great things in your car that keep you safe, be they seat belts, air bags, or soft dashboards, are all designed for you, not your child. The only thing that is designed to keep your child safe on the road is their car seat.
While we would all like to think that children are little versions of us, they are in fact very different. A child’s head is 25 percent of their body mass, while the adult head is only 5 percent. A child’s shoulder and neck muscles are underdeveloped, thus they can not protect the nerves that run through them nor can they properly hold the mass of the head in place. A child’s bone structure is also different as it is softer and more bendable. In short, a child has different needs when it comes to keeping them safe on the road.
We may all be entitled to our own opinions, but we are not entitled to our own facts and when it comes to keeping a child rear facing in the car, the facts speak volumes. A child who is rear facing is 5 times safer than a child who is forward facing. While head, neck, shoulder, and chest injuries are common in children who are turned forward facing before age 2, such injuries are extremely rare in a child who is rear facing and leg injuries are neither as severe nor as common. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children be kept rear facing until they are at least 2 years of age or have reached the maximum rear facing limit on the convertible car seat.
Consider what happens in a crash. The head, neck and spine are supported by the car seat when the child is rear facing. They are compressed into the seat and the seat absorbs all the inertia. When a child is forward facing, there is NOTHING to restrain the head and limbs. The crash forces are distributed over the chest and the shoulders. This forces the child’s body, rather than the car seat, to absorb much of the crash energy. The head and arms fly forward uncontrollably and with such a large mass on the head, a neck or spinal cord injury is very, very common. Since the shoulders are also stressed, nerve damage can result that leaves the child’s arms paralyzed.
For any parent, this kind of description rightly brings to their mind a nightmarish image. No one wants to see their child injured, yet so many parents think it can’t happen to them. Those things only happen to other people, or so they think. The reality is that it WILL happen at some point, whether it’s your fault or someone else’s fault. Crashes do happen, but injuries are preventable. While all infant car seats are rear facing, when parents move their child to the convertible car seat, they should remain rear facing for as long a possible. The second stage seat is called a convertible because it can be both rear and forward facing. Most good convertible car seats will have a rear facing weight limit between 35 and 45 pounds. Britax and Diono convertible car seats can also be tethered rear facing, thus controlling the rebound of the seat in a crash and improving rear facing crash performance.
Keeping your child rear facing until they are at least 2 years old offers them the best protection in a crash. This is not an opinion or the overreaction of a paranoid parent, but fact that is supported by both the statistics and common sense. While parents may be criticized by other parents who don’t know better, or even have to put up with complaints from their child, these things are far better than dealing with the tragedy that can happen as a consequence of turning a child forward facing before they are ready. It is always better to be safe now than sorry later.