New car seat research shows rear-facing longer is better

Last reviewed: November 2011

Though parents may be eager to "graduate" their child from a rear-facing infant seat to a forward-facing seat, it potentially exposes their child to greater risk.

A 2007 study published in Injury Prevention, a publication of the British Medical Journal, and funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows that the standard advice of turning a baby from rear-facing to forward-facing at one year and at least 20 pounds puts a child at greater risk for severe injury than if they were to remain rear facing. The study states that children up to 23 months old are about 75 percent less likely to die or sustain serious injury in a rear-facing car seat than a forward-facing one. A rear-facing seat spreads the force exerted on a child's body during a crash more evenly across the entire body; limits the motion of the head reducing the potential for neck injury; and keeps the child more contained within the shell of the child restraint (see image below, right) than a forward-facing seat (below, left). The benefit of a rear-facing car seat was particularly great, the study found, in side impact crashes.

 
The effect of a simulated frontal crash on a young child in a forward-facing and rear-facing orientation with the same car seat shows the difference in the distribution of forces and exposure of the child's body. See crash test video of a forward-facing child. (Taken from http://www.cpsafety.com/articles/stayrearfacing.aspx.)

In Sweden, which has very low child-passenger injury and death rates, children often ride rear-facing up to 4 years of age. (See concerns about keeping older children rear-facing.)

The American Academy of Pediatrics and many child-passenger safety advocates have expanded their recommendations to suggest that infants and young children remain rear-facing up to the maximum height or weight limits of their car seats. Most convertible models offer the potential of keeping your child rear-facing until he weighs up to 35 lbs.

Consumer Reports recommends that all children from birth to at least 23 months of age remain rear-facing in a child car seat that is appropriate to the child's height and weight.

Posted: June 2009