This post will explain the real differences between rear and forward-facing car seats (source), like which one is best depending on your child’s age.
We have all the important details for you. We will finish with a FAQ section with the answer to your question. Read on!
What is a Rear Facing Car Seat?
A rear-facing car seat is a car seat that is installed with the baby facing the rear of the car. Rear-facing seats support the infant’s head better. It is big and heavy for a still weak and delicate neck, which can’t support it.
Rear-facing car seats sometimes take up less room than seats that face forward because no leg space needs to be left. At any rate, they will not take up more room. Some parents make the mistake of not checking if the seat will fit in their car before they buy. Check its size on the manufacturer’s website before you purchase a car seat.
What is a Forward-Facing Car Seat?
A forward facing car seat is a car seat that is installed with the baby facing the front of the car.A group 1 forward-facing seat equipped with a harness is the safest option if your child has gotten too big for a rear one.
Children who are riding unrestrained or using seat belts are much more likely to be injured in a crash than those using group 1 forward-facing seats. We’ve established keeping kids facing to the rear is best for their safety, but how can we survive it?
You can lose your mind while trying to get the kid in there. They will scream, kick, squirm, cry, screech, make any noise imaginable. The good news is there are tricks to resort to.
Make them feel like they’re in control. Give them choices as you struggle to get them strapped in. As you approach the car, ask them if they want to climb into the seat by themselves like a “big kid” or if they want you to lift them into it. Give them control over the playlist. Tempt them to cooperate by giving them their favorite car snack.
Difference Between Rear-Facing and Forward Facing Car Seats
The first is safer for kids. The bones in a child’s neck and spine start to fuse together until after the age of three. Another obvious difference is that they are facing in different directions.
Car seats are designed to spread the crash forces they don’t absorb over a larger body area. For adults, seat belts spread the force to the hips and shoulders. These are the strongest parts of the body. Rear-facing car seats, which face backward, distribute the crash force along with the head, neck, and back. They evenly reduce the stress on different body parts. They are safe for infants because not a single body part of an infant is developed enough to withstand crash forces.
An infant’s ligaments are vulnerable and the bones haven’t fully hardened. He or she is at a greater risk for sustaining a spinal cord injury in comparison with an adult or an older child. Riding in a seat facing backward helps reduce the risk by supporting the infant’s head.
Which is Safer: Rear Facing or Forward Facing?
Experts recommend rear-facing car seats based on a number of studies. These have shown they reduce a car accident’s impact on the child. The harness holds the torso in place if you suffer a severe crash in a forward-facing seat.
However, the legs, head, and arms are thrown forward. Studies show rear-facing car seats are up to five times safer. There is only an 8% risk of injury in a rear-facing seat compared to 40% in a forward-facing one. Rear-facing seats reduce neck impact from 600 lbs. (forward-facing) to 100 lbs. in a 30 mph crash.
Legroom & Comfort
Rear-facing car seats are more comfortable for children than parents imagine. Rest assured your child’s legs are going to be comfortable. Rear-facing kids can sit with legs stretched up the back of the seat or crossed. Kids’ skeletons are more flexible because they’re mainly made of cartilage.
Forward-facing child seats are equipped with an impact shield to hold the child in place. Alternatively, they may have an integral five-point (or three-point) harness to provide impact protection.
You should keep your baby facing rear until he or she reaches the rear-facing height or weight limit of the car seat. This is even if you’ve had it with the hassle, which most parents complain about. This advice is also valid if the babies cry when facing backward or their legs are touching the seat’s back.
Some people worry that their child might break its legs in a crash because they’re in contact with the back. Compression forces into the femur and hip can break the leg as everything moves forward. In the rarer cases that rear-facing children break their legs, it’s because another vehicle hit the legs. The direction they are facing is then irrelevant.
There’s enough force to inflict major neck injuries in a crash severe enough to break a child’s legs if he or she is forward-facing. The chance of recovering from a broken neck is much lower than for broken legs.
Parents are concerned about motion sickness and its impact on their child. This is normal. But what is motion sickness really? It happens when the eyes don’t see the motion the body is feeling or vice versa. In this condition, our brain gets mixed signals, and it can happen while traveling forwards or backward. It is not related to the direction the seat is facing.
Concerns With Extended Rear Facing
Parents share a number of concerns when it comes to extended rear-facing car seats. We will try to address some of these in this section.
Will your child be safe in this kind of seat if you’re involved in a rear-impact collision? Studies show that rear-facing seats can protect kids in all types of crashes. Usually, rear impact collisions lead to vehicle damage. They tend to occur at slower speeds. The risk of your child suffering an injury is still lower than if they were facing forward.
The driver is more likely to push the brakes prior to impact in the event of a rear or side-impact collision. When moving forward, this creates a brake force. This force will push the child into the rear-facing seat’s support. Just like in a head-on crash, the force will push the child out of the forward-facing seat.
Parents worry that the child won’t have enough legroom in an extended rear-facing car seat. They are also concerned that while traveling, they’re unable to make eye contact in the rear-view mirror.
It is true that forward-facing seats provide more legroom than rear-facing ones. However, the vast majority of rear-facing models are equipped with seat braces to increase leg space. Children can bend their knees or dangle their legs over the sides. You can buy a baby mirror to make eye contact with your baby as they travel facing backward.
The level of protection offered by cars with ISOFIX points and by seatbelts is comparable. In other words, a correctly fitted extended rearward facing seat is quite safe. The option with ISOFIX points is preferable. They reduce the risk of incorrect fitting of the seat.
Get professional fitting help and advice regardless of the method you choose to fit your extended rear-facing seat. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines. Practice fitting the seat so you know how to do it before you need to place your child in it. Fitting the child itself will take a lot of time and effort. Don’t subject yourself to the frustration of struggling with both at the same time.
Types of Extended Rear Facing Seats
There are two types of extended rear-facing seats available. The first can be fit facing forward or facing backward. The second can only be fitted facing to the rear. Which type of seat should you choose? It depends on whether you and the other carers, if any, want to have an option to fit the seat facing forward if needed. Opt for rear-facing only if you are sure that you will always fit the seat facing in this direction.
Another advantage of a rear-facing seat is that it will most likely be cheaper than a combination seat. Some cars will not fit all types of seats. Don’t hurry to buy a seat. Check that it’s compatible with your car and with the other vehicles, in which you plan to fit it.
Parents may be keeping the child rear-facing too long out of overprotection or panic because the kid lacks legroom and is forced to sit with their legs folded. Parents are concerned that this is dangerous for the kid because they don’t look comfortable and are more likely to turn them forward facing. The good news is that there are special seats with extra leg room available to address this issue. These include Clek Foonf, Graco Extend to Fit 3 in 1, and Cybex Eternis.
What Does the Law Say?
The government in the US allows each state to make its own car seat laws on child car seats. Diverse regulations are the result. You need to check the car seat laws of the state or states you’re driving in if you will be transporting a child.
This can be overwhelming, especially if you travel into bordering states often. If you’re planning a vacation that requires you to travel through several states, there’s all that extra research to do.
The good news is that the regulations are similar. The US Census Bureau has divided the 50 states and the District of Columbia by region to make research easier. Canada also has different rules and regulations. They can be more stringent than the US ones and they vary by the province as well. So, the law will say one thing in Alberta and another in British Columbia.
Safety Recommendations are Always Stricter Than the Law
At any rate, no car seat laws in the US or Canada are as strict as pediatricians and safety experts’ recommendations. For instance, most states only require that infants remain in a seat facing rear until they’re 1 year old. The weight limit is 20 pounds. We are told by real-world crash data and research that an infant is much, much safer if they stay facing rear until they’re at least 2.
Today, there are special 3 in 1 and convertible seats. They are able to accommodate a toddler facing rear until age 3 or even 5. A lot of manufacturers and car seat safety experts recommend keeping your child facing rear until they have exceeded the seat’s limits. Likewise, it’s safest for your kid to use a 5-point harness forward-facing for as long as possible.
Moving to a Booster Seat
At one point, they will have to move to what is known as a booster seat. Until they fit in an adult seatbelt properly, they must stay in the booster seat.
US car seat laws require a harnessed car seat only until the child has turned 3 or 4.
However, manufacturers sell car seats for much older or larger children. Compared to a seatbelt, the harness spreads crash forces over more body parts. The law allows children to move out of booster seats when they turn 8. However, they can be at higher risk of serious injuries in a crash if they are still too small to fit in a seatbelt properly.
Frequently Asked Questions
Our final section answers the most common questions about rear and forward-facing car seats.
When can a baby sit facing forward in a car seat?
Once your child weighs 20 pounds, you’re allowed to turn them forward-facing. In addition, they must be capable of sitting unassisted for at least half an hour. They need to face rear for at least a year and 3 months if you are using an i-Size car seat.
You should be able to keep them facing the rear until they are at least 2. This is because most convertible car seats have weight limits of 35 to 40 lbs. rear-facing.
Can my 18-month-old sit forward-facing?
Yes, they can. Convertible safety seats have to face rear until the child reaches 1 year and 20 or 22 pounds. At 18 months, you can turn them around, but it’s not safe.
Can my 1-year old sit in a front-facing car seat?
They can, but should they? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the answer to that is a resounding “no”. The AAP says your child should face rear until they turn 2 or reach the weight and height limit specified by the car seat manufacturer.
Children up to 1 year and 11 months are 75% more likely to sustain a serious injury or die in a forward-facing seat than in a rear-facing one according to a study by Consumer Reports.
Can a 1-year old face forward?
Another argument against a 1-year-old facing forward: Sweden recommends children face rear in a vehicle until they are 4. This country has the lowest rate of car-related deaths in the world. A lot of Americans wonder if that’s possible. It is in Sweden because Swedish car seats provide more legroom for a child facing the rear.
When a child turns 1, a lot of parents consider the possibility of facing forward. Most children reach the weight or height (or both) limit for rear-facing in their seats between 3 and 5 years of age. It may be a good idea to get a car seat that can face forward and rear.
There are plenty of convertible car seats like this on the market. You should look for one with a tall shell and the highest possible rear-facing weight limit. Buy it and use it facing the rear for as long as possible.
Today, a lot of car seats have very high rear-facing weight limits. Some of them are up to 50 pounds! This limit is suitable for most children until the age of 5 unless they reach the rear-facing height limit. Be sure the child isn’t too tall to stay facing rear to the weight limit safely. To this end, check the manufacturer’s height limit.
Can a 2-year-old face forward?
Most toddlers must stay rear-facing well beyond the age of 2. We recommend the age of 4.
Should my 3-year-old be rear-facing?
No, AAA recommends children ride facing the rear until they are at least 5. The benefits of keeping them facing rear far outweigh those of turning them around. In the event of a crash, everyone is safer being backward. Drivers and adults obviously can’t be, but toddlers can. We understand you want to see your child’s face in your rearview mirror as you drive. Maybe you’re missing out on other fun things too.
This might be being able to tickle their toes right behind you. However, these things don’t constitute safe driving practices. Yes, you’re missing many good things by keeping them facing the rear. Yet, you must realize none of these things outweighs the additional safety advantages of keeping them rear-facing.