I was recently speaking with a pediatric ICU doctor about traumatic injuries in small children resulting from car accidents. She told me a story about a mother with three small children. Two children were in booster seats, and she had an infant in a rear-facing car seat. The baby lost her pacifier. The mother turned around to tend to the baby. In doing so, she ran a stop sign and hit a vehicle at full speed. Her two toddlers did not survive the crash. The only child that survived was the infant in the rear-facing car seat. Both of the other children experienced an internal decapitation when the body is thrown with such force that the skull actually separates from the spinal cord resulting in death. Needless to say, these tragedies make me physically sick to hear about.
If you search rear-facing car seat on the internet, you will read various other stories like this one. Accidents like this occur every day, and none of the parties involved ever thought such a tragedy would happen to them.
As a personal injury attorney, I represent and counsel individuals through some of the most emotional and traumatic experiences in their lives. However, I also feel it is my duty to share any insight on how to keep individuals safe from harm. Although I am always here during the aftermath, if I can prevent one child from being injured by sharing my knowledge, I have performed an even better service for my community.
The most current guidelines by the American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to keep their toddlers rear-facing until they are two years old or until they exceed the height/weight requirements for their car seat. As a result, I often see photos of children under the age of two front-facing in their new car seats because the child outgrew his/her infant carriers. I strongly urge you to reconsider this decision.
A 2007 study shows that children under the age of two are 75% less likely to die or be seriously injured in an automobile accident if rear-facing. This is because rear-facing car seats provide better head and neck support in case of an accident (and especially in one of the most common types of car accidents, a rear-end collision.) As most parents know, the weight of a toddlers head is disproportional to his or her body. As a result, when their head and neck is thrown forward, the likelihood of severe injury is significantly higher.
If your child has outgrown his or her infant carrier, the best course of action is to purchase a convertible car seat. Many convertible car seats allow children to maintain a rear-facing position until the child is 40 lbs. I personally have chosen to maintain my child in a rear-facing position despite being over the age of two because he has not yet reached the weight limit for the rear-facing seating position.
I know parents are often concerned that their childs legs can touch the back of the seat. However, toddlers are very flexible. Additionally, in the event of a horrific auto accident, it is obviously better for a child to sustain a leg injury than death.
Consequently, it is important to consider the risks and benefits when deciding when to turn your toddler around to a front-facing position. Make sure to talk with your pediatrician to make the best decision for your family.