Not so fast!
The new study, which appeared in the October issue of the Journal of Traffic Injury Prevention, shows that children who are in rear-facing car seats could be injured in the event of a rear-end collision. The news has experts concerned that this may move parents away from a decision to rear-face their kids for a longer period of time.
The researchers in this study, Jamie R. Williams, Carrie A. O'Donel and Peter J. Leiss (all engineers or physicists at Robson Forensic, Inc.), conducted tests on crash test dummies sized like 6-month-old babies. They strapped them into car seats, then into crash-test sleds, using either the LATCH system or the available seat belts. In tests where 30 mph rear-end collisions were simulated, severe head trauma was recorded due to the car seat being jolted towards the back of the car into the seat back.
Scary news, but experts warn parents not to discount the benefits of rear facing for longer than a year.
In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated its recommendations, saying that kids should remain in rear-facing car seats until they are at least 2 years old (or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their particular seat). This is a far cry from what the organization put out in a 2002 update, where it urged parents to keep their babies rear facing for a minimum of 12 months or 20 pounds.
The reason rear-facing is considered safest for our smallest family members is because the head of an infant or toddler is proportionally bigger than that of an older child or adult, and the bones in the neck and spine aren't fully developed. This means that in the event of rapid deceleration (in other words, a car crash), their heavy heads can suddenly snap forward, leaving them at risk of massive injury.
This may also settle your nerves about the new study: A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration spokesperson told the Washington Post that real-world crash data doesn't show that kids are being injured in rear-end collisions like the research suggests, and both front and side-impact crashes are far more common than rear-end accidents (43, 33 and 9 percent, respectively).
This means that while rear-end collisions happen, they aren't as likely to cause severe injury as a front or side-impact collision can. This also means that while injuries from rear-end collisions aren't common, they can happen, so make sure that your child is thoroughly evaluated for a head injury if you experience one. But before you make a switch, talk to your pediatrician about what's best for your child.
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