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Why are infants placed in rear-facing safety seats?

Rear-Facing Infant Seats

Stephanie Tombrello (Child Passenger Safety Educator & Executive Director, SafetyBeltSafe USA) gives expert video advice on: How do I secure my infant in a rear-facing child safety seat?; How can I secure my baby in a rear-facing seat? and more...

Why are infants placed in rear-facing safety seats?

The first thing is, we're concerned about a crash that comes from the front. We always worry about that because those are the most common and serious collisions. Since in a collision, everything moves toward the point of impact, you're not thrown away from crashes, you move toward them. So, in a frontal crash, everyone goes toward the front. If you understand how a safety seat works, you can see that a rear-facing seat is going to cushion the entire body against the whole shell of the seat. Therefore, that's the safest way to ride. If you're in a forward facing seat, and you've got that top tether attached (which helps to hold the child's head and back farther back from the point of impact) that's another safe way to ride. When you're in a booster seat, you're going to move into the shoulder lap belt. You'll probably move perhaps a little farther than if you're in a tethered seat, although boosters are tested, but you might have a little more looseness in the safety belt than what we would recommend. Also, with a booster seat, there is less around the child to absorb crash forces, particularly because a lot of impacts are not directly frontal or directly from the side. Again, if you think about a side impact, the child in the rear facing seat is more enclosed, and the seat will turn a little bit toward the side. You have more protection. So, it has been shown that riding rear-faced in a car is the best way to ride.

When can my baby use a rear-facing safety seat?

For the average baby, rear-facing in a semi-reclined position in an infant-only or convertible rear-facing safety seat, is the proper way to travel. Most safety seats for infants only are designed to be used up to 20 to 22 pounds but there are some that are designed to be used to 30 pounds. So, you must read the instructions for the product that you are choosing and using before you know how long to use it rear-facing. A rear-facing infant-only seat may never be used to face the front; it is not designed for that, and that is a dangerous choice.

What is a "convertible child safety seat"?

The second kind of rear facing seat is a convertible child safety seat that can be used rear facing and forward facing. Today in the United States, all convertible child safety seats are designed to be used to at least 3 pounds, rear facing. We want people to think about keeping their children in rear facing child safety seats for at least 18 to 24 months. But of course, if you have a convertible child safety seat, use the child safety seat rear facing as long as the child is under the poundage.

When should I move my baby to a convertible seat?

There's one other feature of safety seats that you want to look at when you're deciding whether a child can still stay in that rear-facing safety seat or move to a convertible seat. It is an error that is particularly made with infant only safety seats. Sometimes a child is under the expected weight, but the childs' head is too close to the top of the plastic of the seat. We recommend that there is at least an inch between the top of the plastic of the safety seat when it's in the rear-facing position, and the top of the child's head. The reason for this is when a safety seat is in a frontal collision, it's allowed to rotate, forward and down. If the baby's head is to close to the top of the safety seat, as the seat rotates, the childs' head may emerge from the top of the seat which we don't want to happen. One of the beauties of the rear-facing seat is that the childs' head, which is the most important part of the childs' body, is fully enclosed and is supported during the whole crash. So with infant only seats, you want to be particularly careful about that, because that's a common way that a child outgrows that product. Then they should go onto a convertible seat in the rear-facing position and use it until the child reaches the weight, or the childs' head is within an inch of the top of the plastic of the rear-facing seat.