Parents, take note: Keeping little ones facing rearward and in their infant seats well past their first birthday, and perhaps into toddlerdom, will help keep them safe and sound.
Very recently, the conventional advice was that if you should transition kids into a forward-facing seat at just one year. But based on new research, and updated recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the new recommendation is that parents "keep toddlers in rear-facing car seats until age 2, or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their seat."
The decision follows a 2007 study, from the journal Injury Prevention, that first suggested that rear-facing seats, for children under the age of 2, bring a 75-percent lower chance of death or severe injury compared to front-facing seats.
"A rear-facing child safety seat does a better job of supporting the head, neck and spine of infants and toddlers in a crash, because it distributes the force of the collision over the entire body," said Dr. Dennis Durbin, the lead author of the policy paper.
According to Durbin, parents should wait until a child has fully outgrown the rear-facing seat before placing him or her in the booster seat. Depending on the child's relative size, some parents might want to make the transition to forward-facing seats before 2 years old, while others might wait even longer.
Children should ride in a booster seat until they are 4'-9" tall and between 8 and 12 years of age, recommends the APP. And even after that, until they're at least 13 years old, kids should always ride in the back seat. And under no situation should a baby or child seat be placed in the front seat.
Motor-vehicle fatalities are still the leading cause of death for those 4 and older, but the rate of motor-vehicle fatalities for children under 16 (when teen driving becomes a factor) has fallen about 45 percent from 1997 to 2009, according to the AAP.
The AAP also publishes a list of available child seats, with dimensions, limits, and approximate pricing, while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is now regularly evaluating child booster seats.