Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued new recommendations regarding child safety when riding in automobiles. This are just suggestions, of course. But they are based on evidence from crashes.

Small children are safest in rear-facing car seats until age 2 (yes, two…no longer one). Car seats have recommended weights printed on them. If a 1-year-old outweighs the recommendation of an infant seat, parents should switch to a different rear-facing car seat that accommodates the heavier weight until they turn 2. In front-facing car seats, a crash can jerk a child’s head, causing spinal cord injuries. A rear-facing child safety seat does a better job of 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. One-year-olds are five times less likely to be injured in a crash if they are in a rear-facing car seat than a forward-facing seat, according to a 2007 analysis of five years of U.S. crash data. An estimated 1,000 children injured in forward-facing seats over 15 years might not have been hurt if they had been in a car seat facing the back. Toddlers have relatively large heads and small necks. Bottom line: In a front-facing car seat, the force of a crash can jerk the child’s head causing spinal cord injuries. Good to know!

Both organizations say older children who’ve outgrown front-facing car seats should ride in booster seats until the lap-shoulder belt fits them. And please note: if the seat belt does not fit them properly in the booster seat, they need to be in a booster seat with a 5-point harness restraint. If their little bodies are too small, they can slip in an accident, causing life threatening injuries when their bodies impact on the adult seat belt. The movement allows increased momentum, crushing organs against the skeleton and the seat belt. There is nothing for the body to impact on when you use a harness. Booster seats help position adult seat belts properly on children’s smaller frames. Children usually can graduate from a booster seat when their height reaches 4 feet 9 inches. In Texas, our age and height requirements are under 8 years old or 4 feet 9 inches (whichever comes first). So, your 80 year old, 4’ 1” Grandmother doesn’t need to be in a booster seat. But, the back seat would be the safest place for a fragile little old lady as well. And they’ll fight ‘ya. Trust me.

For older children, poorly fitting seat belts can cause abdominal and spine injuries in a crash.

Children younger than 13 should ride in the back seat, the guidelines from both groups say. No problem with that one at my house. My 15 year old still rides in the back seat. Not for safety-sake. She just doesn’t want to be seen with me. I’ve accepted it. It’s o.k. I’ve moved on. I remember when mine was a tiny newborn. Bringing her home from the hospital. That fragile, tiny little thing in the back seat. Me, driving like a nervous Chihuahua. And now that she’s a teenager…I just want to drive off a bridge.

Just a re-cap…….Among the changes in AAP guidelines: (not the law, but suggested guidelines)

  • Children should ride rear-facing to age 2, or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their seat. (The old policy from 2002 cited age 12 months and 20 pounds as a minimum for when to turn a seat around.)
  • Children should use a booster seat until they have reached 4 feet 9 inches tall and are between 8 and 12 years old (again, Texas law is 8 years old or 4’ 9”)
  • Children should ride in the rear of a vehicle until they are 13 years old.

Also see my blog “Safety Then v.s. Safety Now”

Until next time…..keep your babies safe!!!

Daun Thompson

(Daun is a comedienne, artist, writer, mother and one heck of a benevolent thesbo)