Questions & answers: rear-facing car seats

In April 2011 the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued new recommendations on child car seat safety, recommending that infants and toddlers should, where possible, remain rear-facing until 2 years of age or have reached the maximum rear facing recommendation for their restraint according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

This differs from the previous recommendation that infants should remain rear-facing until 12 months of age. This new recommendation is supported by research.

Plunket supports this recommendation that infants and toddlers should remain in rear-facing car seats for as long as possible.

Q. What is meant by rear-facing?

A. Rear facing is when a child's car seat is placed into the car facing the back window - the child is looking out the back window.

Q. Why should I rear-face my child?

A. Infants and toddlers have an immature spine, neck, head, and pelvis which places them at risk of head and spinal cord injuries.

If an accident occurs while a child is in a rear-facing seat, the child's body moves into the back of the seat shell and the head, neck and spine are supported. In most crash situations the rear-facing child is pushed back into their car seat shell and their body slides up the back of the seat, and then down again. Forces are reduced around the neck and spine and the force of the impact is evenly distributed across the car seat and the child.

Q. What do the statistics say in support of rear-facing?

A. Children under the age of 2 are 75% safer rear-facing than forward-facing and children in the second year of life are five times less likely to die or be seriously injured in a crash if rear-facing than forward-facing. [Henary B, Sherwood CP, Crandall JR, et al. Car safety seats for children: rear facing for best protection. Inj Prev. 2007;13(6):398–402]

Q. Do I have to rear-face my child?

A. Rear-facing until 2 years of age is not a legal requirement, it is a recommendation based on best practice, which is that all infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car seat until they are 2 years old or have outgrown the restraint.

Q. Should the car seat go in the front or back of the car?

A. The safest place for all car seats is in the back seat, so that they are away from airbags that are in car dashboards. It’s important that children are buckled in every time they are riding in the car, no matter how short the journey.

Q. Can the Plunket car seat rental service provide rear facing restraints for toddlers up to 2 years old?

A. The Plunket car seat rental service have restraints of varying maximum weights and heights.

You can seek expert assistance from a child restraint technician who can advise about the best car seat for your child’s age and weight, and one that is best suited to your car. Child restraint technicians are available through Plunket's car seat rental service, and at a number of other hire outlets or retailers. Find a Plunket car seat rental service in your area.

Q. How will I know when my baby has outgrown their rear-facing infant capsule?

A. If the top of your baby’s head is reaching the top of the restraint and they are over the maximum weight recommendation it’s time for a new seat.

Baby will be safer if moved to a convertible car seat that will allow rear-facing to a greater weight and length, ideally this is 2 years of age (greater than this age is fine too), or until the maximum weight and length recommended by the manufacturer for that restraint.

Q. The size of my vehicle is making it impossible to fit a convertible restraint rear facing, what do I do now?

A. Ensure that your baby has outgrown the rear facing restraint you currently have. You may be able to continue using it for another month or two.

A child restraint technician can advise about the best car seat for your child’s age and weight, and one that is best suited to your car. Talk to a child restraint technician at a Plunket car seat rental service in your area.

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