Why Young Children Should Stay Longer in Rear-Facing Car Seats

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Car seats are unmistakably the most essential and safest way for your child to travel with you in the car whether it’s only going to be a short trip to the store or a long distance drive to visit grandma. Even during your first trip home from the hospital with your little one, you have already added a car seat in your vehicle for him/her.

The reason for this is because much like baby-proofing every area in the house, you also need to transform your car into something homey and welcoming. This means making sure that your child feels safe and comfortable to the point that he/she is always looking forward to those drives.

However, there are 4 kinds of car seat that also correspond to the chronological car seat stages. Are you confident with your knowledge about the age usage of each seat? For example, if we quiz you now, do you know which type is the best car seat for 3-year-old?

The 4 types of car seats are the rear-facing harness seat, forward-facing harness seat, highback booster seat, and backless booster seat. And for younger children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that they should stay in their rear-facing seats for as long as possible. So why extend rear-facing use in young children?

The Infant and Toddler Anatomy

The bodies of young children are still developing, making them more vulnerable to physical damages. One of these developing parts is their vertebrae and neck. Most of the connections in their backbone are not complete, and the muscles in their necks are still developing. But the irony here is that their spine and neck support most of their body weight. That is why, during a crash, these body parts take most of the stress. This is where the rear-facing seat proves its worth.

Benefits and Advantages of Extended Rear-Facing Seat Use in Younger Children

Equally Distributes Crash Forces

If you how a rear-facing seat looks, you can compare it to a cradle because it has a prominent shell and the child inside is buckled semi-horizontally. This shell acts as a shield that absorbs the impact and at the same time distributes the forces equally on the child’s body with the majority on their strongest part, their backs.

Because of this, the strain on the child’s neck is lessened as the seat holds his/her head, neck, and spine all appropriately aligned. Rear-facing seats are especially safer for younger children with underdeveloped necks compared to forward-facing seats that hold the upper body during projectile and strains the neck.

Restricts Body Movements

Besides impact absorption and distribution, rear-facing seats also limit body movements more efficiently during a crash. What is the importance of this? As we have mentioned earlier, an infant/toddler’s neck has not fully developed yet, but it still supports the larger and heavier head. This means that during a collision, the movement of the head is going to be harsher.

In a rear-facing seat, this mentioned movement is limited since the seat padding and shell surrounds their head. And compared to a forward-facing seat that puts the strain on the neck as the harness holds the body from moving forward, the surrounding shield on the child’s body in rear-facing provides more restriction because of lesser open space.

Lastly, since a rear-facing seat restricts the head from moving at any direction and is covered by a shell, the risk of the child banging the front seat and acquiring any debris from the crash is also limited. It even helps that the child is facing backward, so the harness doesn’t force the spine to stretch.

What About Rear Impacts?

Even though rear impact collisions are less common than forward collisions, many parents are understandably questioning the effectiveness of a rear-facing seat in this type of accident. To give you an idea, let us differentiate the two. In a rear collision, the forces are equally distributed on both vehicles since they are moving in the same direction. In contrast, a forward collision leads to a sudden halt of both vehicles from their speed to zero.

There is no doubt that rear-facing car seats work great in forward collisions as we have discussed earlier, so what about rear collisions? According to this study by the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, rear-facing seats can still do its job when it comes to safety even if the child is facing the direction of the impact. The child’s head, neck, and spine are well-protected regardless of where the collision occurs.

What if You Have a Small Car?

You don’t have any excuse when using rear-facing car seats even if you have a small vehicle. There are models in the market like the Diono Radian 3RXT, for example, that you can install 3 across and only measures 6.14 x 16.93 x 28.35 inches. You can even find other seats that offer different reclining angles and at the same time, are convertible to a forward-facing seat.

Where is the Best Position to Install the Rear-facing Seat in Your Car?

Of course, like with any type of car seat, for it to be effective, you have to install it correctly into your car. The best place to put the car seat is in the back, specifically at the center. Why? Because the airbags on the front passenger seat are fatal, especially to younger children. Besides the airbags, putting your child in the center back seat also protects them from side impact collision.

Another important reminder is you should never neglect reading the manual of the car seat model that you have. You can even find a car seat fitting service to ensure that you have installed it safely.

Common Mistakes in Car Seat Transitions

A common misconception that parents have is rushing to the forward-facing car seat because they thought that their child feels uncomfortable with his/her legs bent throughout the ride. Combine this reason and the fact that some people don’t like their child’s shoes touching the car seat; the forward-facing seat is going to seem the better option. However, the only reason that you should transition your child to the next car seat stage is if he/she has outgrown the previous seat.

Younger children are exceptionally flexible compared to adults because their bones and joints aren’t fully developed. And if you don’t like getting the seats dirty, you can always purchase covers that they can step on. You can even let your child stretch a bit every now and then when you go to rest stops. These are simple solutions for keeping your child safe.

It is also tempting to give in to the urge of switching your child to a forward-facing seat because you can’t see him/her in the rear view mirror. But much like trying to hand your child snacks as you drive, this also puts both of you in danger. We all know that any distraction while driving must be avoided at all costs.

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