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Hey, Parents! The AAP Just Changed Its Car Seat Guidelines

Photograph by Twenty20

If you think it's time to change your toddler from rear-facing to forward-facing, you might want to hang on a minute. The American Academy of Pediatrics just announced its latest car seat guidelines, the biggest change concerning how long parents should keep their children rear-facing.

Previously, AAP recommendations suggested young children remain rear-facing until at least the age of 2. Now, pediatricians have removed the specific age, instead recommending that "children should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible, up to the limits of their car safety seat."

In other words, even after your child has turned 2 years old, if he or she hasn't reached the the maximum height or weight allowed by the car seat manufacturer, do not forward-face your child yet. Your child might even be up to age 4 before he or she hits the maximum.

According to the AAP, when children ride rear-facing, the most vulnerable parts of their body (their head, neck and spine) are supported by the car seat, so the seat absorbs most of the force from a crash. Children who ride forward-facing don't have that head support and may be thrown forward, which can result in spine and head injuries if the child is turned around too early.

When children ride rear-facing, the most vulnerable parts of their body (their head, neck and spine) are supported by the car seat, so the seat absorbs most of the force from a crash.

Following car seat recommendations is extremely important in keeping children safe, and using car seats or booster seats correctly can help decrease the risk of death or serious injury by more than 70 percent. Just ask this mom, whose car seat safety "nagging" saved her baby's life earlier last month.

"Car seats are awesome at protecting children in a crash, and they are the reason deaths and injuries to children in motor vehicle crashes have decreased," said Dr. Benjamin Hoffman, lead author of the policy statement and chair of the AAP Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention. "But that also means we just don’t have a large enough set of data to determine with certainty at what age it is safest to turn children to be forward-facing. If you have a choice, keeping your child rear-facing as long as possible is the best way to keep them safe."

Other rules to keep in mind:

- When children are forward-facing, use a forward-facing car safety seat with a harness for as long as possible, until they reach the limits allowed by the car seat manufacturer.

- Children who exceed a forward-facing seat's limits should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle lap and shoulder seat belt fits properly, typically when they have reached 4 feet, 9 inches in height and are between 8 and 12 years old.

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