As of January 1, 2017 children in the State of California are required to ride rear facing in their car seat until they’re two years old unless the child is over 40 pounds or over 40 inches tall. This mandate is a growing effort to protect our most vulnerable children in a car crash. Riding rear-facing is five times safer for children, and positioning them in this direction allows for the car seat to support their head, neck and spinal column in a frontal collision. Even most side impact crashes have a frontal component to them, which is why rear facing is also safe in that type of crash. A child’s spinal column doesn’t fuse together until the ages of three and six, so when a child is forward-facing in their car seat it puts a lot of strain on their delicate necks, and forward-facing toddlers can sustain injuries from hitting their head and legs on the vehicle seat in front of them.
Other states have also adopted these laws: New Jersey and Oklahoma were the first and Pennsylvania’s new law began last summer.
The good news is that there’s lots of car seats on the market that accommodate a high weight and height limit for riding rear-facing. Once your child out grows their infant seat, a convertible seat can remain rear facing for a child up to four or five years old, depending on the stature of the child.
Keeping kids rear-facing to the upper height and weight limits of the seat is advised by safety experts such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and SafeKids Worldwide. Globally, you’ll find kids in Scandinavian countries have been riding rear facing for over 20 years, and their injury and death rates are much lower compared to the U.S.
When we know better, we do better. The law doesn’t always equate to best practice, it’s a starting point, but protecting our children is vital. We never know when we will be involved in a crash. We buy medical insurance for that “what if” moment, and having your child riding rear-facing in their car seat is like having that insurance.