The first months of a baby’s life are often measured in firsts: first smile, first wave, first steps, first words. Another first is turning the car seat from rear-facing to front-facing. For many years, the loosely accepted standard for doing so was on or just after baby’s first birthday.
However, the American Academy of Pediatrics in the last several years has dropped that as a minimum age, updating its guidelines to recommend that babies remain in rear-facing safety seats in the back seat of vehicles until age 2. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, AAA and other car-safety experts agree with that recommendation, citing research that shows 1-year-olds are five times less likely to die or be seriously injured in a crash if they ride in a rear-facing car seat.
California law as of Jan. 1 requires children under 2 to ride in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat until they reach at least 40 pounds or are at least 40 inches tall. The law also requires that children under age 8 and under 57 inches must be secured in a car seat or booster seat in the back seat.
Michael Molina, a community health educator at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, says it’s important for parents to follow the law because rear-facing seats reduce head and neck movement in small children in the event of a crash, especially a front-impact collision. Such movement can lead to spinal and head injuries.
“It’s always been best practice [to keep kids rear-facing until age 2], but having it as the law tells parents 2 is the minimum,” Molina says.
For those who might balk at keeping their 1-year-old in a rear-facing seat, Molina cites videos and public service announcements that show the difference of how a car crash affects small children in front-facing vs. rear-facing car seats.
“You can see [in the simulation] when a baby is rear-facing in a front-impact crash, there is almost little to no movement” of the head and neck, he says.
Statistics reinforce that…