In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics changed their rear-facing recommendations to age 2 or until the highest rear-facing weight or height limit of the child restraint has been reached. Shortly after, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also changed their policy to show that rear-facing is safest for kids up to the limits of their rear-facing carseats. While the two policies aren’t quite in line with each other as far as limits go, what’s clear is that at the very least, kids should stay rear-facing to age 2.
It’s been 6 years now since those recommendations changed and I’d say most parents have heard of them. Some want to stick their heads in the sand and pretend like they didn’t hear them because they want their kids to see them eat their mom snacks or because they think their kids’ legs are twisted up and uncomfortable, and for others, it’s truly a new discovery. We have 4 states—New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, California—where it’s the law that children must stay rear-facing until at least age 2, and 5 other states where bills have been proposed in state legislatures to make it formal. This is real.
So, manufacturers, what’s the problem?
Caregivers are getting conflicting messages and it’s confusing the bejeezits out of them. I know—how could this possibly be confusing when we have a 6 year old recommendation and even laws coming out to enforce the safety aspect of rear-facing? It seems clear-cut.
First, I want to say manufacturers have been giving us great seats lately. Really awesome seats! I can’t think of a better time in the last 17 years that I’ve been in carseats that I’ve seen such a great selection and if I had a kid in a carseat, I’d probably be switching them out on a daily basis. The manuals have improved so much too! Sections have been reorganized, color-coded, and written at a lower grade level so you don’t need to have a graduate level college degree to understand it.
Let’s get into the confusion by talking about these awesome infant seats on the market (technically we’re supposed to call them rear-facing only seats). They go to 35 lbs. or 40 lbs. and can hold kids who are no longer infants (see why we’re supposed to call them rear-facing only seats?). A mom who has a 30 lbs. 32” 19 mo old may think that her son is big enough to go straight into a Graco Nautilus because the box on the forward-facing only Nautilus says it fits children in a harness from 20-65 lbs. (and, after all, it’s “the last car seat you’ll ever buy”). There’s no mention on the side of the box, or in the manual, that the Nautilus is not an appropriate carseat for a child under age 2. Besides, after a caregiver has gotten a carseat home and unboxed is not the time to read in the manual that the carseat is not an appropriate model for their child.
Graco isn’t the only manufacturer. Dorel (Safety 1st, Cosco, Maxi-Cosi, Eddie Bauer), doesn’t put age recommendations on their packaging and in fact, rescinded their stance on rear-facing to age 2 that they had on several convertible models (it’s complicated). Evenflo is in the process of converting their line to an age 2 minimum for forward-facing, but that takes time to trickle down; they say it should be completed by this summer. Britax is the only manufacturer currently with text on the side of their combination seat (harness seat that converts to booster) boxes that says the seat has an age 2 minimum.
I’m not asking for much. A simple “Recommended for ages 2+” on the side of the box next to the weight limits on every combination seat would cover it. It doesn’t change the company’s overall philosophy or policy and would let caregivers clearly know the seat isn’t appropriate. Similarly, convertible seat packaging could have wording on the side next to the weight limits that says, “Recommended for ages 0-2+, 5-40 lbs.,” “Recommended for ages 2+, 20-65 lbs.,” and so on.
Labeling on the sides of restraints has improved so much in the past several years. Wording has been simplified and bright colors are being used. It’s time to make text on the boxes practical so parents aren’t stuck buying inappropriate carseats that could put their children at risk.