Wednesday, March 23, 2011

2 is the new 1: The AAP gets with the car seat safety program.

Many of us have known for a long time the benefits of extended rear-facing when trying to keep our children safe in the car. Extended rear-facing refers to the practice of rear-facing your child in a car seat beyond the legal minimum of 20 lbs and 1 year of age (car seat laws do vary by state but this is a common minimum).

I am grateful for people in the online communities I was a part of while pregnant with Ben for being such advocates and spreading the word. It was as a result of this advocacy that I was inspired to do my own research and decide to rear-face our children in the car to the limit of their carseats.

I promise straps got tightened after this picture was taken!
In recent years, the AAP has started to advocate for a minimum of 2 years of age before turning the child around.  In the April 2011 issue of Pediatrics, they formally put forth the new guidelines that include rear-facing until 2 or the limits of your seat, as well as keeping children in a 5 point harness as long as possible, booster seat until 4'9" and between ages of 8 and 12, and finally sitting in the backseat until 13 years of age.

This has created quite a stir as you can see by reading the comments on news articles on the subject or the Facebook posts filling my feed. Many comments and blog posts are putting forth information that is completely and totally wrong.  Everything from "my child can't rear-face because his legs touched the back of the seats" to "this is impossible to follow because there are no car seats that rear face past 20 lbs". 

Let me be completely and absolutely clear here. I do not fault anyone who followed the previous guidelines with their children because they were unaware of the benefits of extended rear-facing.  When you know beter, you do better.  The thing I am having a really tough time wrapping my head around is the outrage being expressed by parents at how ridiculous this is and how it is impossible to accomplish. My husband fears I may have an aneurysm while reading people's inane comments. I even saw one person say she was convinced this was a ploy paid for by car seat manufacturers to make us buy more car seats. Seriously. I'm all for a good conspiracy theory, but really?
Ready for an eight hour drive to the Outer Banks for vacation

This is not new research. Communities of car seat technicians have been advocating this for years based on the research and crash test findings.  The AAP is just finally getting on board. As usual, other countries are way ahead of us with children in Sweden routinely rear-facing until age four. Car seat manufacturers are also recently catching on in the past two years as they increase the rear-facing limits on their seats with some now rear-facing to 45lbs and the vast majority rear-facing to a minimum of 35lbs.

But still parents are upset. They say that their kids would be miserable rear-facing. They say it's so much harder. They say their kids won't be able to see the DVD players in their car. (Oh don't even get me started on that one, and we do *gasp* occasionally use a DVD player in the car for very long drives, but I'm sure not to going to compromise my child's safety so they can squeeze in more screen-time!) They say they will be uncomfortable.  They say it's too expensive. They say this is over-protective.
Again with the straps. They got tightened. This and the first picture on this post are from Christmas tree getting trips so we get the tree buckled down and then check and tighten seats.

My four year old and two year old boys are both comfortably rear-facing in the same seats they've been in since six months of age when I moved them out of their infant bucket car seat (which I could have avoided completely, but it was a convenience factor). I know other parents who have already moved their children to booster seats at this age, which I luckily have not had to purchase yet and won't need to for many years by extended rear-facing and extended harnessing.  My nephew rear-faced until past two in a car seat that cost less than $50 when my sister bought it on sale for their extra vehicle. No, he is not abnormally small. My kids can see out the back and side windows, plus we sing songs, listen to music, and play games in the car to keep them entertained. They both cross their legs or put them against the back seat sitting more sprawled out than they sometimes do when they squish themselves into strange positions on the couch at home.

It's one thing to not know the research and the facts, but why would you not want to keep your child safer in the most dangerous you thing you do with them almost every single day. Safe Kids USA continues to report  motor vehicle crashes as the #1 cause of unintentional injury-related death for all children 14 and under. I have to chuckle (or I'll scream) when people remark on how all this car seat safety stuff is overkill and we are being overprotective, when most of the people saying it are the helicopter parents who never let their out of their sight claiming it's better to be safe than sorry. These are people that don't blink an eye at taking a picture of their children every morning so that they have a current picture in their child's current clothing should that child  be abducted that very day.  Meanwhile, I prefer to follow a more free-range kids way of thinking that emphasizes empowering our kids to be independent and responsible while refusing to hide under a rock just in case the sky might fall.
Straps! Ha. Hubby went to loosen and unbuckle the little guy but I stopped him so I could snap a picture.

But their car seat?  Their car seat is not stifling them. Their car seat that is appropriate and safe for their size  and development is not preventing them from gaining independence and responsibility anymore than my seat belt that is appropriate for my size and development prevents me from being a grown up. Instead, I'm doing something that costs me no extra money and makes my life no more difficult to make them seventy-five percent less likely to die in a car accident (which by the way no one ever plans on getting into and can happen regardless of your own driving skills). 

Next time we're at the playground with my toddler eating the snack he dropped on the ground or maybe just some dirt and my preschooler jumping off of the highest point on the playground he can find, I can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that I've prioritized the risks in their lives and taken the necessary steps to make them as safe as possible while giving them the maximum amount of freedom to grow, learn, and probably even break a few bones along the way.

Disclaimer: As I noted in the captions to the pictures, a few show loose straps but it all has to do with the timing of when I grabbed the camera (which is always an after-thought either before we're fully buckled in and ready to drive or when we're grabbing sleepy kids out of the car).  Their straps are always appropriately tight when driving (at least we do our absolute best).  My new mission is get some intentional pictures with them correctly buckled in!  I can hear the "maaaaa, put away the camera and let's go" already!


  1. don't get me started on comments i have seen! i was intentionally not reading the and then a friend commented on how nasty some of the comments were and of course I had to go look.

    Thanks for spreading the word!

  2. Amen! I turned my 3 year old just recently because she learned to undo the chest clip and get her arms out of even the tightest of straps! My just turned one (today!) year old will stay rearfacing for a long time. Firstly, she's just 17#, and her seat rearfaces to 40#!

    And extended harnessing is a lifesaver in our large family! My five year old can buckle herself into a five point harness properly, but not a regular seat belt. Its not just safer, its convenient!

  3. I have totally seen you drive away with loose straps jk


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