Rear-Facing: Why It's Beneficial

Parents are always excited when their baby reaches a milestone such as crawling, eating solid food or facing-forward in the car seat.  Unfortunately many parents are a little too anxious to turn their baby’s car seat forward-facing, not realizing that by doing so they are putting their baby at risk of serious or deadly spinal cord injuries.

In a frontal crash (the most common type), a forward-facing child’s neck can experience extreme forces that pull the head away from the body.  A baby’s body is not ready to withstand crash forces in this manner.  The bones, including the spine, of very young children are still soft and can stretch and possibly separate under tension.  If this happens, the spinal cord is vulnerable.  The spinal cord, which can only stretch up to ¼ inch, can rupture as the head is pulled away from the body of a forward-facing baby.  Rear-facing, on the other hand, allows the baby’s head to be cradled and move at the same time with the body, minimizing any pull on the neck.

Also, according to an article published in the December 2007 issue of Injury Prevention, during the second year of life children are five times less likely to die or sustain serious injuries when they ride in rear-facing car seats compared to forward-facing car seats.  This research applies to all types of crashes including side impact which are typically the most severe.  Dr. Marilyn Bull, co-medical director and founder of the Automotive Safety Program, co-authored the article in the prestigious medical journal.  “This is the most exciting and significant research to emerge regarding car seat safety in recent years,” Dr. Bull said.  “It is essential that we communicate this message to all families to ensure our children are riding as safely as possible.”

On March 21, 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued new safety recommendations.  The AAP now recommends that children ride rear-facing until they are 2 years of age or until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the manufacturer of their child safety seat.  

Since most newer convertible seats have an upper rear-facing weight limit of 35-40 pounds, children should be able to remain rear-facing until they are around 2 years of age, to receive maximum protection in a crash.

To read the AAP recommendations, click on the following link:

NHTSA also supports rear-facing longer in its new "Car Seat Recommendations for Children" flyer.  Download the flyer by clicking;

More information on why rear-facing is beneficial can be found at Child Passenger Safety: Rationale for Best Practice, a website developed by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI).  Click to access the website.