Rear Facing Car Seat 101

If you came across this site looking for clarification about rear facing car seats, then you’ve come to the right place!  There is a lot of information out there and I’ve compiled the research in hopes to answer common questions and debunk any myths out there.

In Short:

The American Academy of Pediatrics has updated their recommendations, stating that children remain rear facing as long as possible until they reach the maximum height or weight limits for the seat.

This recommendation is also supported by The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

What does rear facing car seat mean?

The term “rear facing car seat” refers to the type of seat that is designed to face the rear of the vehicle (as opposed to forward-facing). It is the best seat for a young child. It has a harness and, in a crash, cradles and moves along with your child to reduce the strain to the child’s fragile neck and spine.

Why is rear facing car seat safer?

Ever wonder why flight attendants sit facing the rear of the plane? You guessed it—because rear-facing is the best way to take an impact. We would actually all be safer riding rear facing. And when it comes to auto accident statistics, according to NHTSA, about 20% of vehicle crashes are side impacts and 60% are front-end collisions.

I’ll let this video simulation show you the differences between rear facing and forward facing positions.

Why rear facing car seat until 2-years?

There are many factors in this discussion, but it has a lot to do with the anatomical development of a young child and the vulnerability of the developing spine, specifically the C3 vertebrae. The older a child becomes, the more time their neck and back  have to strengthen.  The reality is the longer you are able to rear-face, the better.

Where should rear facing car seat be placed?

The center of the back seat is the safest place.

Studies from actual collisions demonstrate that the middle is least hazardous – mainly due to the fact that you can’t take a direct hit in the middle. A study of children 0-3 years old discovered that kids sitting in the middle are 43% safer (source) than those sitting on the side. A study of all lethal accidents in the US from 2000 to 2003 (source) revealed that the individual seated in the middle of the rear seat had a 13% greater probability of survival compared to those seated on one of the side-back-seats.

How to install rear facing car seat with latch?

Because every car seat is different, it’s important to follow the manufacture’s instructions specific to your car seat.  See the video below for some general tips on installing rear facing car seat with seat belt and lower anchors (LATCH).

Video on installing a rear-facing infant car seat with a seat belt.

Video on installing a rear-facing infant car seat with lower anchors.

What about motion sickness?

This topic is challenging because we know many children suffer from motion sickness and we will write a more in-depth article on this soon.  In the mean time, regarding rear facing car seats, research conducted by Volvo’s Car Safety Centre found the same rate of motion-sickness with rear facing as with forward facing.

The most important thing to reduce this risk of motion sickness is to make sure your child has the best view possible out the BACK window as motion appears to be moving slower compared to the side windows.

When to switch to forward facing?

The minimum is age 2 years, however the ideal is as close to age 4 as possible. Basically face backwards as long as possible, until the child exceeds the height or weight maximum for the car seat, which can be located on the backside of the seat.

This recommendation is from both the AAP and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Which seats are able to hold a 2-year old rear facing?

This is where convertible car seats come to the rescue!  Convertible seats are ones that start rear facing and then convert to forward facing as the child grows.  Children usually begin using a convertible seat in rear-facing mode once they exceed the limits of their infant seat.

Also worth noting that the weight limit for rear-facing is now typically 40 pounds for most convertible seats, with several even capable of supporting up to 50 pounds rear-facing! The height limit is usually the same for most rear-facing seats (the child’s head must be at least 1 inch beneath the top of the car seat).

Rear Facing Car Seat Laws (Updated July 2016)

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association,  all 50 United States and territories require child safety seats for infants. Laws also require children meeting specific criteria to use a car seat, however requirements vary dependent on age, weight and height. Typically, this happens in three stages:

  • infants use rear-facing infant seats
  • toddlers use forward-facing child safety seats
  • older children use booster seats

Numerous laws require every child to ride in the rear seat whenever possible and most states permit children above a particular age, height or weight to use an adult safety belt.

First offense fines for not conforming with a state’s child passenger safety laws range from $10 to $500. Many states also utilize driver’s license points as an additional penalty for non-compliance.

What if I get hit from behind? Is my child safe rear-facing?

You are familiar with the saying “don’t sweat the small stuff?” Well, it even applies to rear-end collisions, as they typically are the least severe of all crashes.  If you look at accidents from 2009 that were extreme enough that at least one person in the vehicle died, only 4% of those crashes were rear-end collisions; 52% were frontal impacts, 27% were side impacts, and the remaining 16% were different types, mostly rollovers.

That is why, it is crucial to supply protection for frontal and side impacts, because these crashes tend to be the most deadly.

Which rear facing car seat is the best?

This is a question we hope to answer very soon!



Child Passenger Safety Laws – Governors Highway Safety Association

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