Poll: Parents failing to heed key advice on car seats

John Egan

Most parents are switching their children from rear-facing car seats to forward-facing car seats too early, a new poll shows.

In May 2011, the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health asked parents of children 7 to 48 months old about their use of rear-facing car seats. The poll found that 73 percent of parents switched their child from a rear-facing car seat to a forward-facing car seat before age 2. Thirty percent of parents turned their child’s seat to face forward before the child reached age 1.

In April 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated its guidelines for child passenger safety, recommending children stay in rear-facing car seats until age 2.

“Research has shown that riding in a rear-facing car seat is up to five times safer for toddlers than riding in a forward-facing car seat,” Dr. Michelle Macy, a clinical lecturer of emergency medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, says in a news release. “Parents want to keep their children safe, but they may not be aware of the safety benefits of keeping their child rear-facing beyond their child’s first birthday.”

Macy says rear-facing car seats can prevent serious injuries to children in front-end car crashes.

“When a child is sitting in a rear-facing car seat, the stopping forces are spread out over their entire back. The back of the car seat is a cushion for the child,” Macy says. “However, in the forward-facing position, all of the crash forces are focused on the points of the body that come into contact with the car seat straps. The child’s head and limbs keep moving forward, pulling against the seat.”

Macy offers these tips for parents about car seats for infants and toddlers:

• Car seat instructions often say that the seat can be used forward-facing when the child is 20 pounds. However, this does not mean the car seat should be used in the forward-facing position if the child is still under the height and weight limits for rear-facing seats.

• Most children will outgrow a rear-facing infant carrier well before the first birthday, but that doesn’t mean it's time to turn the baby to face forward. The next step is to get a larger convertible car seat that can be used both rear-facing and forward-facing.

• Newborns who weigh at least 5 pounds can start out using a convertible car seat in the rear-facing position. If money is tight, parents should consider skipping an infant carrier and instead get a convertible car seat that their child can use from birth into the preschool years.

• Contact a car-seat inspection station to make sure your child safety seat is being used properly. Visit seatcheck.org and enter your Zip code to find an inspection station near you.

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