Saturday, January 17, 2009

Benefits of Extending Rear Facing

Before I give convertible car seat recommendations, I thought I should cover the benefits of extended rear facing. 

Finnegan is 21 months old and weighs 30 lbs. He is still rear facing in his convertible car seat. He will remain rear facing until he reaches the weight limit of his seat, which is 33 lbs. Here's why I am a fan of extended rear facing. Information was taken directly from

Why should my child rear-face past 1 year and 20 lbs?

Every milestone in a child's life is exciting! First steps, first word, first day of school. Even car seat milestones seem exciting.  The truth is, they should be looked at with a certain sense of dread, not longing.  Every step in car seat "advancement" is actually a step down in your child's protection.

Rear-facing is much, much safer than forward-facing.  Child safety seats: Rear-face until at least one year discusses the reasons why children should remain rear-facing for a FULL year and 20 lbs. In it, Kathleen Weber states, "In the research and accident review that I did a few years ago, the data seemed to break at about 12 months between severe consequences and more moderate consequences..." This does not mean that there are NO consequences. The consequences may no longer be death from a completely severed spinal cord, but simply life-long injury, including complete paralysis. Research studies suggest that until children are at least four, they are incapable of withstanding crash forces as well as adults - and should remain rear-facing. 

In a crash, life-threatening or fatal injuries are generally limited to the head and neck, assuming a child is in a harnessed seat.

When a child is in a forward-facing seat, there is tremendous stress put on the child's neck, which must hold the large head back. The mass of the head of a small child is about 25% of the body mass whereas the mass of the adult head is only 6%!  A small child's neck sustains massive amounts of force in a crash.  The body is held back by the straps while the head is thrown forward - stressing, stretching or even breaking the spinal cord.  The child's head is at greater risk in a forward-facing seat as well.  In a crash, the head is thrown outside the confines of the seat and can make dangerous contact with other occupants, vehicle structures, and even intruding objects, like trees or other vehicles.

Rear-facing seats do a phenomenal job of protecting children because there is little or no force applied to the head, neck and spine.  When a child is in a rear-facing seat, the head, neck and spine are all kept fully aligned and the child is allowed to "ride down" the crash while the back of the child restraint absorbs the bulk of the crash force. The head is contained within the restraint, and the child is much less likely to come into contact with anything that might cause head injury.

Won't my child be uncomfortable?  Where do his legs go?

Many parents have the misconception that children are uncomfortable or at risk for leg injury by having their legs up on the vehicle seat or bent when kept rear-facing.  These concepts are completely incorrect. First, children are more flexible than adults so what we perceive as uncomfortable is not for children.  Think about how your child sits in everyday play. Do they sit with their legs straight out in front of them? When they sit on the couch, do they purposely sit so their legs dangle out over the edge? No. In real, everyday life, toddlers and preschoolers CHOSE to sit with their legs folded up - that IS comfort to them.

Second, there is not a single documented case of children's legs, hips, etc. breaking or being injured in a crash due to longer rear-facing.  There are plenty of cases of head and neck injury in forward-facing children that could have been prevented if the child had remained rear-facing.  However, even if a leg or hip were broken or injured, it can be fixed.  A damaged spinal cord (from forward-facing too soon) cannot be repaired and subjects the child to lifelong disability or death.

What if I am hit from behind?  Won't my child be safer facing forward?

Frontal and side impacts are the most common type of crashes. They account for 96% of all crashes. They are also the most deadly type of crashes (especially side impacts) and rear-facing children have MUCH more protection in both types of crashes than forward-facing. In the 4% of rear impact crashes that a rear-facing child would be in, they have at least the same amount of protection that a FF child would have in a frontal impact, with the added benefit of less crash energy being transferred to them, and the fact that the rear impact is usually not as severe.

The forces in a rear impact crash are much different from the forces in a frontal impact crash. In a frontal impact, the forces are much greater because the vehicles are usually traveling in opposite directions. Experts suggest that a frontal crash is the same as hitting a concrete barrier � the vehicle and all occupants come to a dead stop within less than 1 second.

When you are struck in a rear impact, the vehicles involved are traveling in the same direction, and the vehicle that is hit in the back has room to move forward. The crash force on the occupants is much less than in a frontal impact. The movement of the impacted vehicle, in addition to the crush zone, absorbs a lot of the crash energy, so it is not transferred to the child. Additionally, the majority of rear impacts are at low speeds.

In short, if your child is rear-facing, he has optimal protection in the types of crashes you are most likely to be in. If he is forward-facing, he may have optimal protection in a rear-end crash, but statistically, that is the least likely to happen and he is 60% more likely to be injured or killed in the types of crashes (frontal, side impact) you are most likely to be in.

You can learn more about the physics of rear-facing at

This website contains several links and videos.

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