New Guidelines for Car Seats

Keep children in rear-facing car seats until age 2, new policy says.

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Looks like longer is better when it comes to the timeline of riding in a rear-facing car seat, according to a new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The New York Times reports that the leading pediatricians' group is advising that children should ride in rear-facing car seats longer, until they are 2 years old instead of 1. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a separate statement recommending the same timeline.

The guideline change, which was published online in the journal Pediatrics, comes as a result of new research showing that children younger than 2 are 75 percent less likely to die or be severely injured in a crash if they're in rear-facing car seats, the Times article says. The policy statement's lead author was quoted as saying that a rear-facing seat is better at supporting the head, neck and spine of infants and toddlers in a crash because "it distributes the force of the collision over the entire body."

According to the same article, both groups say an older child who has outgrown front-facing car seats should ride in booster seats until the lap-shoulder belt fits him or her when the child reaches 4 feet, 9 inches tall and is 8 to 12 years old.

The AAP's previous policy "cited 12 months and 20 pounds as the minimum requirements for turning the car seat forward."

And what about when a rear-facing child's legs start growing? Time magazine reports that "most car seat manufacturers have reconfigured their child restraints, deepening the seats so that nearly all can accommodate children up to 35 pounds, a weight most children don't reach until age 2." However, judging from the reader comments in The New York Times on this topic, most parents are simply going to have the child ride with his or her legs bent. Better safe than sorry, seems to be the consensus.

A car seat is one of the most important gear purchases you're going to make as a new parent. With so many options available, deciding which car seat to register for and/or buy can be a challenge. Check out our top editor picks for car seats in our latest Buyer's Guide.

Parents should read the car seat manuals thoroughly because our experts found that 3 out of 4 car seats are installed incorrectly. Head over to our How To Install A Car Seat page to see step-by-step photo instructions plus links to other resources.

So learn how to do this before the baby is born because hospitals require new parents to have a car seat before being allowed to leave. However, workers are not allowed to help you install it for liability reasons.