Although it is not yet the law in Texas to keep children rear-facing until at least age two, it is best practice to follow the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to keep children rear-facing as long as possible to the maximum weight and height of the rear-facing convertible seat in order to provide the best crash protection.

Rear-facing convertible seats go up to at least 40 pounds rear-facing, with some going up to 45 or 50 pounds rear-facing. This could easily accommodate a child well beyond age two as the AAP is recommending.

Parents often ask child safety seat experts what the safest seat for their baby is. Truth be told, for an infant or young child, it is not the brand of seat they purchase, but the direction they face the seat in their vehicle that will save their child’s life.

The main reason is that the neck and spine of an infant or young child is not fully developed yet and needs extra protection. A small child’s head is at a larger proportion of their body weight than it is for an adult — 25 percent for a child compared to about six percent for an adult.

That extra weight needs a strong neck and spine to help support it during a crash when the head can be violently snapped forward causing a spinal injury, which can lead to paralysis or death.

The rear-facing car seat supports the head, neck and spine of infants and toddlers and distributes crash forces over the entire body, rather than just at the harnesses. The rear-facing child is the safest passenger in the vehicle, and this new law will keep parents from turning their child forward-facing too soon.

For many parents, age one is often considered as a milestone, which means time to turn your baby forward-facing. This is not best practice and will not keep a baby from suffering a broken neck or spinal injury in a crash.

One of the main reasons parents turn their child forward-facing is that they are concerned that their child is unhappy and uncomfortable staying in a rear-facing position because their legs touch the back of the seat.

It is important to know that children’s joints are not fully formed until they are older and remain very flexible. Sitting cross-legged is not uncomfortable for a small child.

It is also important to note that as a child progresses to the next step of a child safety seat, they are actually being demoted in terms of the safety provided by that seat.

Children should stay in the rear-facing infant seat until they outgrow the weight and height limit of that seat, and then move to a rear-facing convertible seat until they reach the rear-facing size limit of that seat.

The AAP recommends that parents not be too quick to transition children to the next step, but instead to keep children in seats with harnesses as long as possible for the limit of the seat.

Often, parents move a child to a booster seat too soon. Children should be at least 4-years-old, 40 pounds and mature enough to sit still for the entire trip before being put in a booster seat.

For a car seat to do its job correctly, it must be appropriate for a child’s age, size and developmental stage — it also must be adjusted accordingly to fit the child securely and be installed properly in each vehicle.

Unfortunately, most car seats are not used correctly. The best way to make sure a child is protected is to have a free inspection by a certified child passenger safety technician in your area.

All parents and caregivers to be sure that your child is riding in the right seat, going in the right direction, harnessed properly and installed correctly by getting a free car seat inspection.

Car seat inspections are performed by nationally certified child passenger safety technicians. Visit http://buckleup.tamu.edu to find a technician in our area by searching city, county or zip code.

Technicians can provide advice and instruction to make sure your children are safe and riding in the proper seat for their age, weight, height, and developmental stage.

Best practice recommendations include:

  • All infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car seat until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the manufacturer of their child safety seat.
  • Children who have outgrown the rear-facing weight or height limit for their car seat should use a forward-facing seat with a harness for as long as possible — up to the highest weight or height allowed by the manufacturer.
  • All children whose weight or height is above the forward-facing limit for their car seat should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle lap-and-shoulder seat belt fits properly. Typically, this happens sometime between 8 and 12 years of age.

When children are old enough and large enough to use the vehicle seat belt alone, they should always use lap-and-shoulder seat belts for optimal protection.

Remember: All child passengers under age 13 should ride securely restrained in the back seat, where they are safest — every trip, every time.

Louisareal McDonald is the county agent for family and community health in Harrison County.