Extended Rear Facing might seem like the newest trend in the parenting world but it's hardly a fad. More and more parents are keeping their children rear facing for longer than the 1 year and 20 lb minimum and some are even going past the 2 year AAP recommendation. Why? Because it's safer!
I've mentioned it before that the current car seat law states that kids need to be rear facing until 1 years old AND 20 lbs (note: it is not 1 year or 20 lbs...it's AND). This is the law, it doesn't matter if your doctor gave you the ok to turn your 9 month old around, it doesn't matter if your child is 20 lbs already but not 1 year. It's the law and you need to keep your child in the rear facing position until 1 years old AND 20 lbs. Once most kids hit that magical 1 year and 20 lbs mark, their parents turn them around to face forward. However, many parents are deciding to keep kids rear facing longer than 1 years old because it's safer.
Kids who continue riding rear facing from just ages 1 - 2 years are 5 times safer than their forward facing friends and forward facing kids under the age of 2 are 75% more likely to be injured in a car accident. Those are pretty high percentages!
Technically everyone is safer riding rear facing instead of forward facing but it's just not logical for adults or even older kids to continue rear facing. Technically we should all be in 5-point harnesses too...perhaps some day. My point is that age really has nothing to do with it. Rear facing is safer...period.
One more statistic and then I'm going to move on to some of the myths about rear facing... Here in America it is only just now getting "popular" to rear face until 2 years old (and I use that term lightly as most still think extended rear facing is crazy). However, in Sweden 75% of children continue to rear face until at least age 4. 4 years old!!! From 1999 - 2006, only 4 rear facing kids (under the age of 4 years) were killed in accidents and their deaths were not related to the way they were facing (as in their deaths were due to accident related fires, drowning, etc) During that same time frame, 6 kids who were under the age of 4 but were forward facing were killed. 3 of those crashes were possibly survivable if the kids had been rear facing. Compare that to the 2003 data from National Highway Traffic Safety Administrations that says in just 2003 there were 494 deaths of children 4 and under. Granted in America we seem to have issues with just using a car seat let alone using a rear facing car seat so many of those kids died simply from improper car seat use but still... that's a much much higher percentage than Sweden!
Extended Rear Facing Myths
Myth #1: Kids will be uncomfortable rear facing.
Fact: In case, you haven't noticed kids can contort their bodies into all sorts of positions and are perfectly happy doing so! Kids who continue rear facing simply bend their legs or cross them so that they fit in their seat but they do not get uncomfortable doing so.
Myth #2: Kids who rear face will break their legs in an accident.
Fact: Oddly enough studies show that it is forward facing kids who break more legs from car accidents. Even if this were not the case, a broken leg from rear facing would be far better than a broken neck from forward facing.
Myth #3: Rear facing kids get car sick more than forward facing kids.
Fact: Forward facing kids get car sick just as much as their rear facing peers. It's not the direction they are facing that changes car sickness unfortunately.
Myth #4: I've already forward faced my child so I can't go back to rear facing.
Fact: There is really no reason why you can't try turning that car seat back around. You might be surprised at how easily the change is; some kids have no problem going back to rear facing. In either case, wouldn't it be better to at least try to have your child ride in the safer position?
Myth # 5: My child will be happier if I forward face them.
Fact: Maybe, maybe not. Your child doesn't know any different. They have been rear facing since the beginning. If you think they will be happier forward facing simply because they've been throwing fits about being in the car seat lately, you might want to know that many kids hate riding in the car seat from 12-18 months. It's one of those horrid phases but they will all eventually grow out of it. Odds are if it's a struggle to put your child in a rear facing car seat then it will be a struggle even if it's a forward facing seat.
Myth #6: My child is too tall to rear face.
Fact: Most convertible car seats will fit even the tallest of 2 year olds so at very least you should be able to have your child rear facing until 2 years old. An infant seat usually does not have the same height limits as a convertible car seat and thus most toddlers will out grow an infant seat before 2 years old. The key is to have your child rear facing in a convertible car seat so that they can rear face longer.
Myth #7: My doctor told me it was ok to forward face so it must be ok.
Fact: Ah the "my doctor said so" line. Don't get me wrong, doctors are great but they aren't perfect! Doctors are not always up to date on all the latest changes for child safety. Not to mention that car seat safety is not a topic that usually comes up in medical school. Yes technically your doctor would be correct if they told you it was legal to forward face at 1 year and 20 lbs....but safe? I don't think safe would be a word I'd use. It is obviously safer to rear face even past age 2 and that is what doctors should be recommending.
Myth #8: If I rear face my child, they will be less safe in a rear end collision.
Fact: Only 4% of accidents are rear impact. The rest of the time car accidents are head on (72%) and side impact (24%). Even if your child is less protected in rear end collision (which as far as I know, has never been proven), it is such a small percentage that you would do better by making sure your child is best protected from head on collisions (by rear facing) which happen much more frequently. There is also something to say about the amount of energy involved. In a front impact accident cars are usually going at higher speeds and are very sudden resulting in a lot of impact on the body. Rear impact accidents are much slower and the cars are usually going the same direction which means less impact on the body.
You can see that rear facing beyond the 1 year and 20 lbs law is safer. It might not be normal (yet!) but who cares about being normal anyway? It's not likely that you do, considering you are reading a crunchy blog! Besides wouldn't you rather be weird with better protected kids than normal? At least consider rear facing until 2 years old. I mean that's the AAP's recommendation now, so you can at least throw that piece of trivia out to the nay-sayers when asked. However, you might want to take things a bit further and do like the Swedes and rear face till 4 or 5 years old; their statistics are pretty hard to argue with!
Want some video proof that rear facing is safer?
This post is a part of a month long series. If you would like to check out the other posts in the series, please check them out on the Crash Course: Child Passenger Safety series schedule.