Monday, May 17, 2010

Why We Plan to Keep the Babby Backward

Chilling in the Big Girl Car Seat, with a big girl cup, even

It's not difficult to find reasons to turn a baby's car seat around as soon as they reach that magical 1 year/20 pound mark, but the fact is that many of those reasons have more to do with superficial psychology than safety. I read comments on one blog from someone who was convinced that riding backward was bad for her new baby because it was traumatic - not being able to see mama, she asserted, was causing real psychological damage. Then there's the "My baby is bored" camp, which for whatever reason believes that staring at front seats and the back of a grownup's head is more stimulating than staring out the window and at the back seats.

Is it easier to talk to a baby when they're facing forward? I don't think so - Paloma can see me in her mirror (which, according to the firestation carseat expert was very securely attached) reflected in the rearview. Were she facing forward, she'd see exactly the same thing, namely my eyes in the rearview, since I'm not going to turn my head around over and over while driving. If she can hear me better in a forward-facing position, we have bigger problems than boredom, I should think.

What else, what else... oh, right. Legs. Currently, Paloma can sit with legs extended in a rear-facing position since she's a wee 15-month-old, but it wouldn't hurt her to sit with her legs slightly crossed. From what I've read, there are no reported cases of an infant's legs being injured in a crash specifically because they were in a rear-facing car seat. And as trite as it sounds, broken legs mean a cast and a broken neck means a casket.

Speaking of necks, this seems like a good time to bring up what usually sounds like the most convincing argument for facing kids forward, namely the erroneous "fact" that most car accidents involve rear-end collisions, making it safer to sit kids forward. has this to say:

Technically, rear-facing carseats are safer in frontal and frontal offset crashes. This is because they support the baby's entire back, neck and head during the crash while a front-facing carseat provides little to no protection for the head and neck. In such crashes, the head and legs of a child in a front-facing carseat are thrown forward like a ragdoll, and younger infants are less able to survive these forces.

In the same manner, you could argue that a rear-facing seat would not be as good as a front-facing seat for a child in a car that is rear-ended. While this is true in principle, here are some reason why ERF is still safer (has a lot to do with odds and severity/or lack of severity in a rear end collision)?

1) Frontal and frontal offset crashes are FAR more frequent that rear-end crashes. In fact, they account for about 72% of all crashes according to, while rear and rear-offset crashes only account for about 4%. The remainder are side impacts, where rear-facing carseats also provide an increased measure of safety.

2) The energy involved in frontal crashes is usually much higher than in rear-end crashes. This is simply because frontal crashes occur at higher speeds, while rear-enders usually occur with one vehicle stopped and the other at a relatively low speed.

3) Frontal crashes are very sudden. With both vehicles traveling in opposite directions, the cars stop almost instantly. This tends to transfer much more power to the passengers because they have less time to ride-down the energy in the crash. More power transferred to internal organs results in greater injuries. Rear-end crashes, on the other hand, often involve a stopped car, or two cars traveling in the same direction. The car in front is usually bumped forward and does not come to a sudden stop, and that means more ride-down time for the passengers. Rear-end crashes can cause serious injury, but the usual injuries are whiplash injuries to adults who have inadequate head/neck support.
In countries like Sweden, children are often kept rear-facing much longer than they are in the States, even to 3 or 5 years old and 55 pounds (in seats made to accommodate them). Kids go straight from rear-facing seats to booster seats, and auto related injury and death rates for rear-facing children in Sweden are near zero because of this. Think a little over one kid a year. From 1992 through June 1997, only nine children properly restrained in rear-facing seats died in motor vehicle crashes in Sweden, and all of these involved catastrophic crashes with severe intrusion and few other survivors. Compare that to the fact that motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for kids in the U.S.


  1. I definitely agree that it is safer to keep them rear facing as long as possible. Had I a shorter child, instead of Giant Baby, I would probably still have him rear facing. But once his legs were so long that he would rest them up high at an angle with ample air between the seat and his legs I no longer felt he was safe from harm. But he's in a giant convertible car seat now, so it's a lot higher since it is essentially a booster too.

    My least favorite "reason" for turning kids early: It's easier to get them out of the seat when they face forward.

  2. Is it easier? (Haven't tried it in a long time...) I kind of imagine, in my particular automobile, the door getting in the way, whereas now I'm not blocked by the door because I'm on the handle side not the hinge side.

  3. Most people based their arguments on feelings not fact. You've laid out the facts. I plan on keeping my future child in rear facing for as long as possible. (On another note, I must be a freak of nature because all three accidents I've been in, I was hit from behind. I must be the 4 percent all by myself, lol).

  4. @Ms. Understood I feel like accidents come in bunches, either in a span of time or in category. I've never been rear-ended myself (knock on some serious wood). Instead, all of my accidents have been side-swipes. Rears and sides are better than fronts, which tend to be car versus car and fast, ugh.

  5. I have a real predicament with this. I KNOW it's better to be rear facing, but for the first three months of her life, every single time I tried to put my daughter rear facing she would scream and scream and scream. It drove me to near distraction, so I would have to stop and put her forward facing. When I found out you're not supposed to I was at a loss. I then realised I could put her in the passenger side seat so long as the passenger side airbag was disabled (we have a really old car so that wasn't a problem) and that solved the problem, but now when my husband drives, I'm in the back seat, so she can still at least see us. But it really was horrible. She would kick and twist and really fuss just to NOT get in the seat. I found that so distracting while driving too. Hopefully in our new car she'll still be able to go on the passenger seat!


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