Parents may be tempted to transition their children from rear-facing to forward-facing car seats as soon as possible, usually when they outgrow their infant carrier.

But Consumer Reports and the American Academy of Pediatrics urge parents to wait, because children are safest riding rear-facing seats until they are at least 2 years old.

Car seat research has shown 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.

That's because a rear-facing seat spreads the crash force more evenly across the back of the car seat and the child’s body. It also 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.

Based on our car seat timeline (found in the car seat buying guide), we recommend a minimum of three car seats for your child: a rear-facing infant carrier, a convertible, and a booster.

Some parents may think that making the transition from infant carrier to convertible is the right time to get a forward-facing seat. But they should get a convertible rear-facing seat instead. Most babies will outgrow the height limit on their infant carrier well before they reach the weight limit.

And our crash tests with a 22-pound, 29-inch 12-month-old dummy showed a higher incidence of head contact to a simulated front seatback surface with rear-facing infant carriers (16 of 30 tested models) compared with rear-facing convertibles (1 of 23).

As a result, Consumer Reports strongly recommends transitioning your baby from an infant seat to a rear-facing convertible seat no later than his or her first birthday.

So far California, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania have passed legislation requiring all children under 2 to be restrained in a rear-facing car seat.  

Why Kids Should Stay Longer in Rear-Facing Car Seats

Rear-Facing Q&A

Q: Isn’t my baby too big to ride rear-facing? He’ll be so uncomfortable with his legs bent.
Children are far more flexible than adults because their bones and joints aren’t fully developed. So what may seem really uncomfortable to us can be fine for our kids. Real-world crash data show a reduced rate of lower extremity injuries (legs and feet) when riding rear-facing than head and spine injuries from riding forward-facing. A a rear-facing position better protects the head and spine from traumatic injury—the ultimate safety priority.

Q: I like to be able to see my child and hand him a snack or drink. Is it worth switching seats early?
Regardless of your child’s seat, passing a snack while driving is a risky move. Drivers tend to turn the steering wheel when they’re reaching, which could lead to an accident. Plus, having a restrained child eat in the car carries risks, because a fastened seat belt can delay you from responding if he chokes or spills something. Best bet is to allow time for snacking before you head out or plan a few minutes to stop during your trip for a bite or drink.

Q: My child is eager to turn forward-facing now that he is “big.”
A: Although parents may be tempted to transition their children to the next seat after a growth milestone (and potentially make things easier for themselves), the fact is that each move to the next type of child restraint actually marks a step down in terms of overall safety. For children who could ride facing either direction based on their height, age, and weight, forward-facing is less safe overall than rear-facing. And for slightly older children, using a booster seat with a seat belt is less safe than using a forward-facing seat with a full harness. Children can be eager for upgrade. The key is to be consistent and avoid making exceptions—such as, “I’ll let him sit forward-facing in Grandma’s car”—and your child will be less likely to object.