Parents and safety experts who are focused on increasing safety standards in car seats will be pleased with new guidelines announced recently by a US car seat manufacturer.
Cosco announced last week at the Kidz in Motion National Child Passenger Safety Technician Conference that it plans on increasing the rear-facing age requirements for its car seats, not allowing kids to face forward until age 2.
Nearly every standard car seat on the market allows for car seats to face forward when the child reaches age 1, and weighs more than twenty pounds, so this is a big step from a popular manufacturer.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Transportation Safety Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control all recommend children sit rear-facing until age 2. However, there are currently only laws that mandate kids face toward the rear of the vehicle until their first birthday, so it’s up to the parents’ discretion to choose when to switch their car seats around. The Governors Highway Safety Association maintains a list of requirements for each state.
Deciding when to switch to a forward-facing car seat arrangement is a tough decision for many parents, who need to consider the size of their own child, as well as car seat arrangements in cars, among other factors. Also, the increasing popularity of using rear-facing car seats longer has been linked to the recent rise in hot car deaths, due to parents not having visual cues from a child in the back seat.
My daughter is 17 months old and she’s still rear-facing, though I have noticed her pudgy little legs getting a bit squished, and I think she would enjoy the view afforded by facing her forward.
After reading multiple articles pointing to increased safety for a child in a crash when they are rear-facing, I’ve decided to keep her where she is at for as long as she will fit in a rear-facing seat, hopefully until she turns 2.
I also asked my favorite mom-to-mom Facebook group, Ask the Chicks, what they thought about the new Cosco guidelines and keeping car seats rear-facing until age 2. Within minutes, I received multiple responses touting the benefits of keeping kids rear-facing for as long as possible.
One mom, Niki Brosemer Meganck, shared, “My two-year-old son is only 25 lbs. - the size of many one year olds. I figure the longer he's rear-facing, the better. A flight attendant once pointed out to me that their jump seats aren't rear-facing to watch us, but because it's safest in the case of turbulence or any impact.”
Another mom, Jan Oliver Atwood, wrote, “The hubs and I had a rather heated discussion about this one... We were considering a long car trip and he thought DD (18 months and 10th percentile for height) would be more comfortable forward facing. However, she doesn't know any better because she's always RF. While it may not be a law, it's strongly recommended by AAP & state of MI.”
My own research and the comments on the parenting forum suggest the direction car seats face is a big deal, but are some Americans parents stressing out too much about this decision, while others ignore it completely?
Even with the extensive car seat requirements, the CDC issued a report in February that said, “Only 2 out of every 100 children live in states that require car seat or booster seat use for children age 8 and under.”
The report also mentioned that one-third of all kid car crash fatalities in 2011 were due to kids not being buckled up in any way.
It seems that some parents in other countries also view car seats with less concern than American parents.
Over the holidays, my husband and I visited family in Mexico, where seat belts aren't widely used, let alone car seats. Most families pile in, a dozen people in a small sedan, with nobody batting an eyelash. I was extremely anxious about the fact that my daughter wouldn't be in a car seat.
In lieu of a seat, I held onto her, squeezing extra tight whenever we stopped at a traffic light or sped up on the highway. Overall, she fussed less while in my arms, and thankfully my human seat belt solution was enough, and we didn't have any difficulties during the trip.
While I was glad to get home to my daughter’s car seat in the states, the trip to Mexico did encourage me to think more broadly about the issue, and make sure the decisions I make for my daughter’s car safety aren't based on fear, but rather informed by research, and suited to her needs.
For now, since she's still rear-facing and in the US, I will enjoy family car trips without a toddler in my arms, and will be sure put on her favorite music to make sure her pudgy legs have something to dance to as she looks out the back window.