All parents are aware that their newborn needs to be in a properly fitted car seat, which should be rear facing for babies. However, confusion though starts to arise with the issue of when the baby can be moved up to the next stage of car seat and face the front of the car.
Research is still ongoing surrounding this topic but some of the newest safety figures challenge parents’ perceptions and American research suggests that they should remain rear facing until a minimum of 2 years and up to 5.
The legal position
In Australia, the law is clear on what is required at the different ages. Under 6 months, a baby must by law be carried in a rear facing seat. Children between 4 and 7 years old must be in a forward facing car seat on seated on a booster cushion. The grey area concerns the children between 6 months and 4 years, who must be appropriately restrained, but can be either forward or rear facing.
Know your car seat
Car seats are an expensive item to buy, and therefore it’s important to take time to research the market and choose the one best for you. Not all car seats fit well in every car, so visit the car seat manufacturer’s website to see which models they fit. All car seats will clearly state on them the size of child intended to use them. This is always stated in kilos, never in months or years. Children who are particularly large may have to be moved into the next stage of seat many months before a smaller child.
When to move to Forward Facing
The Australian law says that you must not put your child in a forward facing sear before 6 months of age. Most car seats which face forwards are only suitable for babies who weigh over 9kg. However, research has shown that it is safest to keep your child rear-facing in their newborn seat for as long as possible, even when they weigh over 9kg. Seats will also state an upper weight limit, so until your child is reaching that limit it is safest to stay rear-facing.
Even after a child has outgrown their newborn seat, it is not necessary to change to forwards facing seats. Rear facing seats for older children, up to the age of 4 or even beyond, are growing in popularity due to their impressive safety record. Keeping children rear facing until the age of 5 is standard practice in areas such as Scandinavia, and although in other parts of the world the seats can be difficult to source, they are appearing on the market in increasing numbers.
Is Rear Facing really that much safer?
Having children facing backwards in the car until they are 4 or 5 is a strange concept to many parents, so the arguments about why this is a good idea have to be particularly strong to convince them to make the change. The most deadly types of crashes are those in which the car hit something or is hit from the front. If a child is forward facing, their neck jerks forwards which can cause spinal damage.
This is eliminated by having them facing backwards. As a child grows, their bones become more dense and the strength in the spine means that by the age of 5, they can turn to be forwards facing. If the car seats are properly installed, there is plenty of room for the child’s legs, and in any case, any leg injury which may occur in an accident is likely to be less threatening to life than a neck or spinal injury.