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Car Seat Safety: Keeping My Kiddo Rear Facing as Long as Possible

Car seats. Ugh. A necessity, but pretty much one of the parenting controversies of the century, right? I avoid posting ANY pictures online of my son in his car seat because I don’t want the car seat mama police squad to chirp in telling me what I may have done wrong. (Even though I know he’s strapped in safely!).Also, I find car seats to be super annoying. All that pulling and buckling and clicking. I KNOW they are necessary for safety, but I’d rather change a series of dirty diapers than go on a series of errands that required me to strap my son into his car seat multiple times in a row. Plus, we don’t have a minivan. (Yet? Ever? Jury’s still out!) So in both of our cars, the front passenger doesn’t have a ton of leg room thanks to the rear facing car seat setup (best place for each car seat in our particular cars). To make all this worse, you’re practically supposed to keep your kids in car seats until they’re 23 now, so the problems aren’t going away any time soon. (Joke not mine. Thanks, Bible study friend!)

Little girl sleeping in car seat

Not my photo, but I think we can all agree that this little cutie is not strapped in safely. Source

All that being said, car seat safety IS one of the parenting hills I will choose to die on. With family. With friends. With strangers. I won’t attack or accuse or provide unsolicited advice — I promise! Except in this blog post. Ha! But when it comes to my child’s safety in the car, I will do as much as I can. And if you ask me my opinion on your child’s car seat setup? I’ll give it. (So don’t ask if you don’t want to know.)

Last fall, the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) updated their safety guidelines for car seats. When we stopped in at the pediatrician a couple months later for a sick visit, I was thrilled to see these new guidelines on the exam room wall. If you didn’t hear the announcement, you can check it out here. But the biggest thing you should know?

Keep your child rear facing for as long as possible.

That is the single safest way for infants and toddlers to ride in the car. 

This directive changed the previous AAP recommendation for rear facing until age two in the hopes of encouraging parents to follow the car seat height weight limits as opposed to age guidelines — since age and weight do not always correlate. When rear facing, children are protected by the hard shell of the car seat if an accident was to occur. This shell can better protect the vulnerable areas of their little bodies: the head, neck, and spine. By following car seat manufacturer’s height and weight guidelines and staying rear facing until the child maxes out the seat, we can best protect our kiddos in the car.

This means that if your two year old still fits in the seat rear facing? Keep them that way.

I know there are lots of reasons parents want to turn a car seat around. Being able to better see, comfort, and interact with their child in the car among them. Hopes of helping with motion sickness. Perceived cramped legs. Maybe some two years olds tell their parents about things like this? But my 2 1/2 year old doesn’t. And he is pretty vocal and expressive. In my opinion, I would rather put up with any of those things if that means better protecting my son in the event of a car crash. Just because you CAN turn your car seat around sooner doesn’t necessarily mean that you should

I know there’s a lot of discussion and debate about this. I know people say “we survived without car seats.” But the numbers don’t lie. 

“Using the right car safety seat or booster seat lowers the risk of death or serious injury by more than 70 percent.

Car crashes remain a leading cause of death for children. Over the last 10 years, four children under 14 and younger died each day. We hope that by helping parents and caregivers use the right car safety seat for each and every ride that we can better protect kids, and prevent tragedies,” said Dr. Hoffman.” – AAP

My son may not be a baby anymore, but he will always be my baby. I know that’s super cheesy, but it’s true! Since becoming a mom, I’ve realized just how dangerous the world can be. I don’t want to live in fear or paranoia, but I do want to take advantage of as many safety features as is reasonable. I already have a car seat for my son. Why not use it as best I can? In conversations with friends who have teenage kids learning to drive, I’ve caught glimpses of how they see cars: a big metal machine operated by someone who is very inexperienced surrounded by many other big metal machines operated by who knows who. Translation: cars driven by inexperienced teenage drivers surrounded by a plethora of other drivers of unknown origins under unknown influences (distraction, drugs, alcohol, inexperience, cell phones, etc.). When I was learning to drive, I was so ambivalent about it all — excited to drive but completely clueless about the risks. But in Nashville, I see wrecks nearly every day on my commute. It’s frightening! Since becoming a mom, I’ve become much more cognizant of my own safety while driving and how my driving affects others. So it definitely makes sense to me that I would want to protect my son while he is in the car as much and as long as I can.

So . . . I’m going to keep rear facing my son in the car until he maxes out the limits of his specific car seat.

Two year old pretending to drive a car.

I’m also going to keep this little dino safe by making him wait another 13-14 years before driving.

Even if that means I can’t see him well in the car. Even if it means the car upholstery is continually covered in tiny muddy footprints. And even if (insert other upcoming inconvenience here — such as sickness on a road trip).

It would be a bigger inconvenience. . . . or even potentially a tragedy . . . if, God forbid, we were in an accident and something happened. Something that possibly could have been prevented or lessened with a rear facing car seat. I know I can’t control everything. As parents, we do the best we can with the information we have. Since this is the information we have, this is what I’m going to do. My little buddy trusts me in so many other ways. I can’t let him down here.

When we get to the next steps with forward facing car seats or booster seats, I know we’ll have more decisions to make and recommendations and guidelines to follow. Since I’m not there yet, I haven’t really done my research, but you can find out more about Tennessee child restraint laws here or other laws by state here.

What do you think about these car seat recommendations from the AAP?

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