Welcome to CarseatBlog.com! You’re here so you’ve obviously heard about the new recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) regarding carseats and boosters. Perhaps you saw something on the news today or read a comment on facebook. You might be a little (or a lot) confused right now and are looking for some accurate info and helpful advice. We’re here to help! Consider us your tour guides in the confusing but wonderful world of Child Passenger Safety.
These are the new recommendations from the AAP:
- Keep kids rear-facing until at least their 2nd Birthday (keeping them rear-facing beyond age 2 is fine also if they haven’t maxed out their convertible carseat in the rear-facing position by either weight or height).
- Once the child has maxed out the convertible seat in the rear-facing position - turn them forward-facing but keep them in the 5-point harness until they reach the maximum weight or height limits for that particular seat.
- Don’t rush to “graduate” kids into booster seats before it’s necessary but do use a booster seat once the child has legitimately outgrown the harnessed carseat. Every seat has different weight or height limits so make sure you understand what those limits are for your seat(s). Some child safety seats are “combination seats” which can be used initially with the 5-point harness and then the harness is removed after it’s outgrown and the seat is used as a booster using the vehicle’s adult seatbelt system (lap/shoulder belt).
- Keep kids in a booster seat until they reach at least 4′ 9″ tall (57″) and the vehicle’s lap/shoulder seatbelt fits them properly. See our blog on The 5-Step Test to help you determine if your older child can ride safely in your vehicle using just the seatbelt.
- Keep kids out of the front seat until they are TEENAGERS (and yes, we realize that most 9-11 year olds think they’re teenagers and may act accordingly but they are not actually teenagers and they need to sit in the back seat). Truthfully, many of these tweens still need to use a booster in order for the seatbelt to fit them properly. I know what many parents may say about this but I’ve been through this with my oldest child who is now almost 14 and please trust me when I say, “they’ll live”. And if you’re unlucky enough to crash with them in the vehicle – they’ll live without potentially devastating internal injuries caused by an adult seatbelt that didn’t fit them properly or wasn’t worn properly.
To Worry or Not to Worry?
When it comes to carseats there are lots of things you do need to worry about like making sure the carseat is properly installed and that the harness straps are snug and positioned correctly. But here’s a brief list of things that you DON’T need to worry about when it comes to rear-facing toddler and older kids:
- Child’s legs are bent and/or their feet are touching the vehicle seat cushion when they are rear-facing. This is not a safety concern and really isn’t a comfort issue either. The kids won’t mind and they’ll always find a way to position themselves so that they’re comfortable. Don’t sweat it. Really.
- Sensory Deprivation. Honestly, I always want to laugh when I hear parents mention this as a reason for wanting to turn their child forward-facing prematurely. It’s another non-issue. All children in Sweden ride in rear-facing carseats until about 4 years old and there is no proof or data whatsoever to back up this concern. Swedish children are not damaged for life because their parents understood the importance of rear-facing carseats.
- But I can’t see them! Of course we’d rather be able to look in the rear-view mirror and see their sweet little faces. But it’s just so much safer for them to be rear-facing in the event of a crash. You’ll be able to turn them around eventually – I promise. In the mean time enjoy the fact that you have some privacy to munch on that candy bar without them seeing it and demanding that you share your loot.
- But what if they’re choking back there or something? As a general rule, you shouldn’t give your child anything that they could choke on while they’re strapped into the carseat. Save the grapes, popcorn and marbles for when they’re older.
- They’re too big to be rear-facing in this carseat! Are they really? Do you know the correct way to determine if they’ve really outgrown the seat? You will in a moment….
How and when rear-facing carseats are outgrown
Any carseat can be outgrown by weight or height. The weight limits are easy to follow. Once your child reaches the rear-facing weight limit of your seat (which could be anywhere from 22-45 lbs depending on which model you have) that’s it – they’ve outgrown it. But outgrowing by height (which happens frequently) can sometimes be harder to determine. Some carseat models will give you a height limit in inches or cm. It may say something like “for children 30 inches or less” or “rear-facing for children from 19-40 inches tall”. That’s pretty easy to understand too. Once your kid reaches that magic number - they’re officially too tall to use that seat in that position. But many carseats list what we call the “1 inch rule”. The 1 inch rule states that your child has outgrown that seat in the rear-facing position once there is only 1″ between the top of the child’s head and the top of the shell of the carseat. This is how to correctly measure that distance between the top of the head and the top of the shell:
Different seats for different stages of your child’s life
Many parents start off with the infant carseat and then transition to a convertible when the infant seat is outgrown (or you get tired of lugging it around). But you don’t have to use the infant seat until it’s fully outgrown. You can ditch it as soon as you’re ready to move up to the bigger rear-facing convertible seat but you lose the convenience of lugging baby around town in the bucket once you move up to a convertible. Some parents don’t even bother with the infant carseat at all and use a convertible seat from day one (rear-facing of course). This is perfectly acceptable as long as the harness on the carseat fits your newborn well. Some convertibles are better than others in this dept so if you’re planning to skip the infant seat and use a convertible from birth - ask on our forums for some specific recommendations. If you start off with an infant carseat just know that the next step is a convertible seat used in the rear-facing position.
Most convertible carseats sold today are rated up to 35 or 40 lbs in the rear-facing position. If possible, try to avoid buying a new convertible seat that is only rated to 30 lbs in the rear-facing position since it might not accommodate your child rear-facing to at least age 2. The good news is that only one or two of the currently available convertible models are rated to 30 lbs. However, if you have an older seat that was made a few years ago – check the labels and/or the instruction manual to determine what the rear-facing limits are. For the record, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a convertible seat that will accommodate your child rear-facing for two or more years. Check out our Recommended Seats List for convertible seats that we like in a variety of price ranges.
Eventually every kid will outgrow their convertible in the rear-facing position. The child may be 2, 3 or even 4 years old at that point. Then what do you do? You turn the seat around and reinstall it forward-facing! All convertible seats can be used rear-facing AND forward-facing. That’s why they’re called convertibles! Just make sure you read the instruction manual carefully and make all the necessary adjustments when you transition to the forward-facing position.
What’s after that? Well… you have a choice. Once your child outgrows the 5-point harness of the convertible seat you get to decide whether or not your child is ready for a belt-positioning booster seat. If your kid is still under age 4 or 5 then you really have to ask yourself some tough questions. You know your child best. Can s/he stay properly seated in a booster seat for the entire ride, every ride, awake and asleep? Most preschool age kids cannot and these kids really benefit from staying in a 5-point harness for a while longer. The good news here is that there are plenty of higher-weight harnessed seats on the market that can accommodate older, taller, heavier kids in a 5-point harness. Again, check our Recommended Seats List for some suggestions in different price ranges. All of the “combo seats” on our list can be used as a booster once the harness is outgrown so it’s a seat that your child will be likely to use for several years. And depending on which combo seat model you get – it might just be the last seat you ever need to purchase for your child.
Besides combination seats that transition into a booster there are also many “dedicated booster” models. These seats are just boosters. They do not have a 5-point harness. They can only be used with a vehicle’s lap/shoulder system. Boosters come in 3 types – highback, backless and “dual mode”. Dual mode boosters have a back that can be removed so you have the option of using it as a highback or a backless booster. Generally, backless boosters are most often recommended for much older kids who never sleep in the vehicle. I personally don’t like to see younger kids in backless boosters but think it’s an appropriate option for older kids and tweens who still need to be in a booster but may be self-conscious about being “seen” in one.
Here are a few different options for keeping your kid as safe as possible through every age and stage:
- The “Traditional” Carseat Progression: Infant carseat, rear-facing convertible, same convertible used forward-facing, higher-weight-harness combination seat used with 5-point harness, same combination seat used without the harness in booster mode, backless booster.
- The “Fewest Number of Carseat Purchases” Progression: Higher-weight-harness convertible seat used rear-facing from birth, same seat used forward-facing to max weight or height, dual mode dedicated booster
- The “I don’t have a lot of money but I still want to keep my kid as safe as possible” Progression: Skip the infant seat. Use Cosco Scenera or Evenflo Tribute convertible from birth (around $50). Use convertible forward-facing when rear-facing limits are reached. When outgrown switch to Evenflo Maestro combination seat ($80). Use Maestro with 5-point harness until outgrown then switch to booster mode and continue using the seat as a booster until outgrown. This seat isn’t very tall in booster mode since it isn’t height adjustable but once it’s outgrown you can just buy a backless booster (around $20) until your child reaches 4′ 9″ tall and passes The 5-Step Test. Total cost from birth to seatbelt: About $150
As I have tried to demonstrate – you have lots of options and you don’t have to sacrifice safety just because you’re on a tight budget or can’t afford $250 for a single carseat. The main message here is not to rush each stage. Keep kids rear-facing for as long as possible, once they’re forward-facing keep them in a 5-point harness to the limits of the seat, use booster seats longer and learn how to determine when it’s really safe for your child to transition just to the adult seatbelt. Last but not least – keep your tweens and younger kids out of the front seat if there’s an available seatbelt for them to use in the back seat.
And what about you? Yeah, I’m talking about you now. Do you always buckle up? Always wear your seatbelt properly? Do you buckle up even if you’re riding in the back seat? Do you blab on your cell phone while trying to merge in heavy traffic? Fire off a quick text message while you’re sitting at a red light? If you’re guilty of any of the above – please promise yourself that you won’t do this anymore. Crashes kill so many people every single day. They kill young and old – moms, dads, grandmas and kids. They kill rich people in expensive cars and the rest of us poor souls just trying to squeak by in whatever we’re lucky enough to be driving that day. And when they don’t kill they often cripple, maim and destroy lives.
I know to some people this whole carseat and booster safety thing may seem overwhelming and/or a bit extreme. But it’s really not. It’s just perception. And if you change the way you think about it, you’ll realize it’s really not that big of a deal. Keeping kids as safe as possible in motor vehicles crashes isn’t all that difficult. I know some people like to fuss and make a big deal about how inconvenient it is and how much trouble they have to go through every time they get in the car but here’s a newsflash for those people - having kids is inconvenient! Changing diapers every day for 2-3 years is inconvenient. Not sleeping through the night is inconvenient. Getting your picky kids to eat a healthy balanced meal once in a while is inconvenient. Doing 8th grade ELA homework with your kid at 9 PM is definitely inconvenient! But that’s our job. Justifying turning a child forward-facing before 2 years old (or before it’s really necessary) doesn’t lessen the risk to the child. Giving in to a whiney 10 year old who wants to sit in the front seat because all his friends sit in the front seat doesn’t make it okay. Being a parent is hard work. Here at CarseatBlog we’re parents too and we totally understand that. We know how hard it is and how many challenges we all face every day as we do our best to raise happy, healthy, well-adjusted kids. Understanding and following the new AAP recommendations for optimal child passenger safety is just one more tool in our parenting toolbox. And let’s face it – you can never have enough of those!