Rear Facing to 4? Are You Joking?

In my continued efforts to spread info on car seat safety I want to talk about rear facing car seats and why they are so important.  I know parents make the decision to front face for a variety of reasons some very good and some for very ill informed ones. Battling chronic car sickness or chronic screaming can make the best intentions of rear facing disappear and ultimately we each have to do what makes it survivable. But the question each of us has to stop and ask before we do that is “Have I done everything I can to make this work? Are there any solutions I haven’t tried yet?” If so try them, see if they work before spinning that seat around. If not then do what you have to knowing the science. Despite what social norms are (turning at 6 months or a year) science doesn’t change.

Science says kids are over 5 times safer rear facing in a car seat in a car accident, 5 times. Stop and think about that. 5 times safer in something that is the number one killer of kids under 16 (cars), that’s big. Why is it so much safer? Partly because crash forces are spread over a wider region of the body not just over the very vulnerable head, neck and shoulders of a young child. Also because when Rear facing the shell can help protect a child from flying debris which typically comes from the front wind shield.
Wait I said something about 4 years old, seriously 4 years? WHY??
Well for a few reasons:

  • Kids up through age 2 are VERY disproportionately built, most of their weight and body mass is in the floppy, bobby, big ol’ head.
  • On top of that they have very under developed neck muscles and ligaments (good for coming out a birth canal but not great for the forces of a car crash)
  • Their bones in their neck aren’t ossified until close to age 4. This means they can’t handle the stresses of a forward facing crash the way adults can because their bones are still literally in pieces.

Thus experts in most countries say that kids should rear face to a minimum of 2 years (when their bodies even out a bit) and IDEALLY/SAFELY/Best practice til 4 when their bones are more structurally sound. Ultimately to 4 is best but every day past 2 you can get them is a day safer.
What’s the risk of not doing it?
What if I turn my kid?
And why does the law allow it at 6 months if it’s not safe?
So I’m gonna start with the last question first. We have lots of things legally allowed we know aren’t really safe. Smoking for example. Ultimately the law sets legal minimums and then it’s up to us adults to decide what we are willing to live with. In the case of car seats the legal minimum here in Australia is 6 months, which quite frankly is WAY behind the rest of the developed world, many countries now require kids to rear face to 12 months or 2 years or even to 4. Ultimately you can turn your kid at 6 months legally but science says it’s not a great choice, just like legally I can not vaccinate but that doesn’t make it the safest decision for my child, science says so.
The risks for a child who are front facing (ffing for short) before 4 are serious. They include serious shoulder and neck injuries, severed spinal cords, internal decapitation, or worse death. There was a news story out of Moree, NSW recently of a 16 month old who was internally decapitated in a car crash. By the grace of god and medical science he’s ok but still has a full halo on and major surgery to connect his head to his spine but his doctor said it’s frankly a miracle it didn’t severe his spinal cord and kill or paralyze him. It was confirmed by his mom that he was in fact front facing at the time. Which isn’t surprising since this is an injury that’s just not seen in a rear facing accident since the crash forces aren’t distrubuted the same. I’m going to link to a similar story of another 18 month old back in the US from 08 who was also lucky, but by lucky I mean he can walk now, then they weren’t sure.
So I want to keep my kid rear facing.   But they’re BIG and their legs hit the seat and they are hard to get in?
Well the big thing yeah that happens. But this year a whole new category of car seats hit the market called A4’s these seats can rear face most kids to AT LEAST 2 years old and MANY to 4. They all allow for RFing through a SEATED height of 39 cm.
How do I know my kid’s seated height?
Put their bum on the floor up against a wall. Measure from the floor to the top of the shoulder, that’s their seated height. For perspective my very big 5 ½ year old daughter who’s 127cm tall is only 41cm tall in seated height. So you can easily rear face even many/most very large 3-4 year olds in these seats.
For the moment the A4’s on the market include the following seats (more are being released as the market for them grows):

  • Safe and Sound: Slimmline AHR, Platinum SICT Isofix, Millenia SICT, Platinum Pro, Compaq MKII, Compaq AHR,
  • Maxi Cosi:  Hera and Euro
  • InfaSecure: Quattro, Kompressor 4 and Grandeur* (*goes 0-8, RFing like an A4 but then FFing after that like a type G seat)
  • Babylove: Ezy Switch EP

As for the legs, despite the concern many parents have it’s completely safe to have a kids legs hit the seat and it’s actually more comfortable for them generally as well. There is no evidence of leg injuries from rear facing but even if there were a broken neck far out weighs a broken leg. Ironically in studies most leg injuries actually occur in FFing children due to their legs being violently flung forward in an accident, so even if legs were a big concern it turns out RFing is actually safer.
Many parents worry they will be uncomfortable when their legs get too long but most kids will either criss-cross them, fold them in half, put them up the back of the seat , lean them over the sides etc. And if you watch how kids sit, crouch etc they are simply way more flexible than an adult so stuff that looks uncomfortable to us just isn’t for them. On the other hand imagine hanging your legs off a bar stool that’s too tall and has no leg support, now imagine doing that for hours potentially. It get’s uncomfortable. When we turned our daughter at 3 ½ that was her constant complaint. That’s what FFing is like to many kids since their feet don’t touch the floor. So what do they do? They kick your seat, they jam them into your back or they ironically fold them up criss-cross the same way they did rear facing.
As for getting them in, here’s something many parents don’t realize. You can loosen your tether every time you take them out so that it’s laying even with the bottom of the seat, thus it doesn’t bar your way at all. Then tighten it back up after you’ve put them back in and done up the straps. It’s easy and it makes a world of difference in getting them in each time.
Ultimately if you go with a new A4 seat or one of the other seats in the A2 category that doesn’t rear face quite as long the important thing is to follow the markers on your seat. You should NOT rear face past the top of the marker, the seats are tested that way. You should follow the instructions and if you want to rear face longer look at purchasing a higher limit seat. Some older seats may not have height markers and in that case you have to go by the maximum weight listed in the manual for rear facing, again don’t exceed it.
So Yes at the end of the day you can absolutely FF at 6 months or a year or 3 years or whatever, but please don’t believe the outdated info you get from shop assistants or your parents or whoever (sometimes scarily enough even fitters). Read the laws, read the science and then make an informed decision. You may decide what works best for you is 9 months or 3 years or whatever but know the info first before deciding. Take a second to watch this video which explains the science behind RFing.
More articles from Amber:
Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? Having Babies on Two Continents
Living Life Abroad – Peter Panning Life
101 Things to do in Sydney – Parks & Playgrounds edition
The Great Ocean Road and Kids…Why I Hate Car Trips…
Taking Candy from Strangers – Why Buying a Used Car Seat is a Bad Idea
Moving – The Other 4 Letter Word, and Tips for Surviving it
We Were in a Car Accident. What Now?? (Car Seat Safety/Tips Post)

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  • Cass
    14/03/2016 at 2:49 am

    I wish the bigger rear facing seats were around when my son was born. He’s 3 now (105cm tall). He may have been premature (31 weeker) but he outgrew his first rear facing seat at seven months. He was too tall for the straps- to fit in the rf position. I at least managed to stretch it out long enough he could sit. I think it cruel to put babies who can’t hold themselves in a sit to ff- even without the health risks.
    I honestly wanted him RF for as long as possible- I was originally aiming for 18-24 months.
    I was so happy when the first of the A4’s hit the market- because it would mean that anyone who wants to rf now can. It means that no one would have to worry quite so much knowing that their baby is only ff because they are too long- because they are designed to keep them rf for so much longer.

  • […] Rear Facing to 4? Are You Joking? […]

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