When you’ve finally figured out how to correctly install your child’s car seat and everything’s going just fine, except that your child is growing faster than you expected, sooner or later you’ll need to determine if it’s time to move from rear-facing to front-facing.
This doesn’t need to be such a parental dilemma. Here are some tips that can help make the decision a little less stressful.
Keep rear-facing as long as possible
Safety experts all agree that the safest protection for your child is to keep him or her in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible. Studies back this up. A 2007 study in the Journal Injury Prevention found that children under the age of 2 are 75 percent less likely to die or be severely injured in a crash if they are rear-facing.
Riding rear-facing was found to be five times safer than forward facing, according to another study. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a rear-facing car seat is 71 percent safer than no restraint at all, and a forward-facing car seat is 54 percent safer than no restraint at all.
Check the car seat instruction book or the labels on the car seat itself for the height and weight limits for that car seat. More information on car seat recommendations for children (age and size chart and type of seat recommended) is available at the Parents Central page of Safercar.gov.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) came out with a recommendation in 2011 that all children be rear-facing until age 2, or until they reach the maximum height and weight requirements for their particular car seat. And, thanks to higher rear-facing car seat weight limits, children can remain in rear-facing seats longer.
Best tip is to buy a car seat with a high rear-facing weight limit and a tall shell, and then to use it rear-facing as long as possible. The Diono Radian RXT can be rear-facing up to 45 pounds, which makes it one of the highest weight limit rear-facing seats sold in the U.S.
Dennis Durbin, MD, PAAP, and lead author of the AAP’s policy statement said that even though parents look forward to transitioning their child from rear-facing to front-facing car seats, “these transitions should generally be delayed until they’re necessary.”
The reason behind this statement is that a rear-facing child safety seat does a better job of supporting an infant or toddler’s head, neck and spine in a crash, because it distributes the collision force over the entire body. “For larger children, a forward-facing seat with a harness is safer than a booster,” Dr. Durbin said.
Smaller children, then, can remain rear-facing longer, while other children may reach their car seat’s maximum height or weight well before age 2.
How to make the transition
Parents, if your child has outgrown the car seat, meaning he or she is beyond the height or weight requirement for the car seat, this is the time to transition to a forward-facing car seat with a harness – until they reach the maximum height or weight for that seat.
At that time, a booster seat will make sure the vehicle’s lap-and-shoulder belt fit properly.