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A surprising number of parents make a potentially fatal mistake when strapping their children into car seats, according to the results of a new study published in the journal Academic Pediatrics. 75 percent transition their kid to a forward-facing car seat much earlier than advised.
Here’s the car seat rule of thumb: Parents should use a rear-facing seat until a child is 2 years old or until he or she has outgrown the height and weight limits of their rear-facing seats. That’s according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) which, in 2011, extended its guidelines from one year of age and 20 pounds.
Researchers polled parents in 2011 and again in 2013 about when they transitioned their children to forward-facing seats. In 2011, 33 percent of parents of 1-to 4-year-old children who had been turned to face forward had done so at or before 12 months. (Only 16 percent turned their child’s seat at 2 years or older.) In 2013, 24 percent of parents of 1- to 4-year-old children who had been turned to face forward made the turn at or before 12 months. (Only 23 percent waited to turn until the child was 2 years old or older.)
“While this is definitely a step in the right direction, it’s not an impressive increase,” lead study author Michelle L. Macy, M.D., clinical lecturer of pediatric medicine at the University of Michigan, tells Yahoo Parenting. “New parents are more likely to follow AAP guidelines than ones with older kids but on average, parents turn their children around anywhere between 13 and 15 months old, which is too early.” Although Macy didn’t study the reasons behind the data, previous research found that parents want to keep an eye on their kids while they drive, assume they’re too large or heavy to face the rear, or prefer the convenience of removing them when they’re facing forward.
Complicating matters further is that child passenger safety laws are outdated and most recommend having children face the rear until only the age of 1. And in many cases, rear-facing seats aren’t mentioned at all. “No state has laws that equal best practice,” Benjamin Hoffman, MD, a representative from the AAP, tells Yahoo Parenting. “But the laws of physics will always trump the laws of the land — kids between the ages of 1 and 2 who sit facing the rear have a 532 percent decrease of injury than kids who face the front.”
There’s a psychological factor at play, too. Parents tend to measure a child’s success by his milestones and look forward to when he’s “big enough” to face the front. “The thinking is, ‘You’re a big boy now, time to face forward,’” says Hoffman. “But car seats are one instance where that mindset doesn’t apply.”
What’s more, many pediatricians aren’t educated on current guidelines or don’t broach the topic with patients. Parents should always read the manual provided by their car seat manufacturers and have a certified car seat specialist inspect installation, a service that’s provided free in many cities. Check out Safe Kids Worldwide for more car seat safety tips.