Rear-Facing Longer Means A Safer Ride
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently established a new policy recommending children ride rear-facing up to 2 years, or to the upper weight limits of the car seat. Parents who are not familiar with the benefits of extended rear-facing are puzzled why this should be the recommendation. After all, most parents are anxious to see their baby while they are driving the car so they can keep an eye on them. I did when my first born was younger. As a matter of fact, his pediatrician at the time said he was big enough to go forward-facing at nine months old. You can imagine how delighted I was! Now, after 11 years of being a CPS instructor, I am horrified to think what would have happened if we were in a crash.
While it is tempting to turn babies around to face the front of the vehicle, it is important to know that when they are positioned rear-facing they are more protected from a frontal, side or rear impact while facing the back of the vehicle. For many years now children in Sweden have been riding rear-facing up to 4 and 5 years old. Sweden has virtually zero fatalities for children ages 0-6. We have learned a lot about why this is simple physics and not just a phenomenon.
According to NHTSA, in the U.S. an average of 4 children die every day on our road ways. Thousands suffer injuries requiring an emergency room visit, hospital stays or long term medical care. Yet, it is human nature to assume this was "just an accident or nothing could have been done to prevent it." We tend to take driving, dodging in and out of traffic, texting, talking on phones, etc. for granted. We get the privilege of driving at an early age without a vast amount of study or being tested on a regular basis to meet any kind of minimal standards. Although the statistics seem to be trending downward, car crashes are still the leading cause of unintentional death and injury to children under age 14. Some of the injuries are life-long. No one is immune!
Our priority should be to keep children rear-facing for as long as possible. Rear-facing protects the head, neck and spinal cord. Plain and simple. Crash forces on a developing spinal cord can sever the spine, even in a low impact crash. When a child is facing forward, thrusting the head forward causes pressure on the spinal cord, nerves and vertebrae. Many child restraint manufacturers design seats for rear-facing to higher weight limits for this reason. Companies like Diono make the Radian RXT, R120 and R100 www.diono.com, providing more than adequate room, comfort and high weight capacity for maximum protection in the rear-facing position.
Some reasons parents do not keep children rear-facing after one year: "She'll break her foot if we are in a crash", "He would be happier forward-facing," "She gets car sick rear-facing," "I can't see him. What if he is choking on something?" The list goes on and on. First, it is documented that the likelihood of a leg or foot breaking in a crash is more likely to occur to the forward-facing child. Secondly, a child as young as two or three can hardly express how much happier they would be forward-facing not knowing the difference. Car sickness has many remedies, not necessarily needing medications. Lastly, not feeding a child in the car and keeping other choking hazards away from the child would eliminate risks of choking.
Whatever the reason, parents should prioritize the need for safer travel for their children. Riding in a car is not supposed to be a "joy ride". Transportation is a necessity in today's society. Unfortunately, it is the most dangerous activity we all participate in every day.