News Archive

Everything We Thought We Knew About Rear-Facing Is Being Questioned

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Has the time come to reverse our stance on extended rear-facing and turn children forward-facing at age 1 like we used to in the olden days?

The simple answer, for the moment is, NO.

What’s going on?

Dorel Juvenile Group, the parent company of Safety 1st, Maxi-Cosi, Cosco and other juvenile brands recently issued a position statement on their website explaining why they’ve stepped away from their recent age 2 minimum mandate for forward-facing in their convertible carseats. The short story is that they hired a statistician, Jeya Padmanaban, to replicate the original 2007 study upon which all our assumptions of rear-facing (RF) safety statistics in the USA are based. Not only was Padmanaban unable to replicate the results using the same data set as the original authors of the study, her conclusions actually led to opposite findings. She presented her findings to NHTSA and to the journal Injury Prevention. This prompted some of the original authors of the 2007 study to re-examine their analyses. When their attempts to replicate the analysis also fell short, it became apparent that there were real flaws in the study. Recently, the journal Injury Prevention issued an “Expression of Concern” regarding the original study. From the statement: “Specifically, they believe that survey weights were improperly handled in the initial analysis, which caused the apparent sample size to be larger than the actual sample size. This resulted in inflated statistical significance.” We are currently waiting for the revised study analysis and results to be reviewed and released. We will update this article when that information becomes available.

What do we know at this point?

The anatomy of the developing pediatric cervical spine predisposes children to injury of the upper cervical spine. In general, the younger the child, the more likely an upper cervical spine injury will occur. The neural arches in the pediatric cervical spine fuse posteriorly by 2–3 years of age. Until that time, the vertebrae are made of cartilage and bone and held in place by ligaments; it’s all very pliable and elastic. Traveling in the rear-facing position is inherently safe and is critical for babies less than 1 year old. (Please also read Why Rear-Facing Is Better: Your RF Link Guide, an evidence-based justification for rear-facing.)

Even though the statistics from the 2007 study are being disputed, there is agreement that rear-facing carseats cradle the head, neck, and spine to protect them in frontal and side impact crashes. We know it’s safe from basic physics, an understanding of crash dynamics and results from other countries, like Sweden.

What’s in question?

Since 2007 when the Henary, Sherwood, Crandall, et. al. study was first published, child passenger safety advocates have been told that rear-facing is 500% (or 5 times) safer than forward-facing for children under age 2. Now that statistic appears not to be true, at least not based on the data used in this one study which analyzed injuries to fewer than 300 kids between 1988-2003. Having such a small sample size makes drawing broad conclusions very difficult. Large sample sizes generally result in more accurate and reliable conclusions. We have had our own concerns about the original study and how the “5x safer” figure is presented to parents. We still don’t know exactly how rear-facing compares quantitatively to forward-facing in most situations.

There are other methods, but it can also be difficult to draw broad conclusions from specific case studies or proprietary crash testing done by manufacturers. All of this underscores the need for a more modern crash test sled and better studies on the subject. Modern vehicles simply don’t have a back seat that’s a flat bench seat of a ’70s Chevy Impala with lap-only seat belts and no floor like the standard crash test bench does. Modern vehicles have very different back seat cushions, front seats that crowd the back seat, lap/shoulder seatbelts, and they all have floors too!

What are the risks to a rear-facing child?

Does Where You Live Predict How Likely Your Child Will Die In A Crash?

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The Journal of Pediatrics recently released an interesting study examining whether geography made a difference in children deaths from vehicle crashes. It stated things we already know: unintentional injury is the leading cause of child death in the US and vehicle crashes cause the most injury. Some of the most common causes of injury included not using restraints, misusing restraints, putting children in the front seat before age 13, alcohol and drug use by drivers, high speeds, and rural roads.

After examining the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) database, researchers concluded that 13% of children who died in crashes were inappropriately sitting in the front seat when they should have been in the back seat. Across all states, 20% of children who were either unrestrained or inappropriately restrained died. And nearly 9% of drivers who were under the influence of alcohol were driving with children. The type of road made a difference too: rural roads counted for 62% of child fatalities.

The vast majority of children who died in crashes (52%) lived in the South, followed by 21% in the West, 19% in the Midwest, and 7.5% in the Northeast. Factors include what was discussed above: unused or misused restraints and driving on rural roads. Also found to be a factor in reducing deaths were red light cameras. In states where there were red light cameras in operation, death rates were lower. Also interesting was that there appears to be a minivan “safety bubble” effect. Children riding in minivans had a slightly lower death rate, though it’s not the minivan itself that may be necessarily safer; rather people who drive minivans may drive slower, use child restraints and use them properly, and so on.

What does the study tell us? A carseat isn’t going to work if it’s not used and it has to be used properly to do its job. The front seat isn’t safe for kids under 13; it’s just not. Red light cameras work. Rural roads are more dangerous because they’re smaller, twistier, and don’t have barriers between oncoming traffic.

New California Car Seat Law Changes Minimum Forward Facing Age

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chicco-nextfit-zip-air-rf-There are a number of reasons why we love living in California and starting January 1st, there’s one more reason to add to the list. On the first day of 2017, California will join a small group of states that require children to remain rear facing until age 2 (with a few specific caveats).

Several existing laws remain in place, including:
1. All children under age 8 must be buckled into a car seat or booster seat in the back seat of the vehicle.
2. All children 8 years or older or 4’9″ or taller may use the vehicle seat belt if it fits them properly.

But the newest component replaces the previous 1 year and 20 pounds rear facing minimum requirement. California law states (Sections 27360 27360.5 27360.6 27363) :

“Effective January 1, 2017, children under 2 years of age shall ride in a rear-facing car seat unless the child weighs 40 or more pounds OR is 40 or more inches tall. The child shall be secured in a manner that complies with the height and weight limits specified by the manufacturer of the car seat.”

Violating these laws carries a fine that can exceed $500 for each improperly restrained child, as well as having points added to the driver’s license. In short, it’s not worth it, especially when you consider that ignoring this law puts your child at risk of death or significant injury.

SceneraNEXTEmmaRF sideThe law is written so that families of children who are very tall and/or heavy do not have to buy an expensive extended rear facing seat to make it to age 2. To clarify, the 40 pound/inch caveat should not be used to imply that rear facing is somehow less important for a 40 pound or 40 inch 18-month toddler, because it’s not. Science shows us that it is anatomical development (which comes with age), not the height or weight, that makes a young child less at risk for catastrophic neck injuries in a crash when forward facing.

We have known for a long time that rear facing is safer than forward facing for every person, and especially for infants up until at least age 2. It’s nice to see state legislatures like California’s catching up to the research and helping nudge parents to keep their children as safe as possible in the car.  Be sure to see our list of the best convertible carseats for extended rear-facing!

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UPPAbaby MESA “Henry” Infant Carseat – Green is the New Black

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We are so excited about this new product, which will be available Spring 2017! The UPPAbaby MESA is already one of our favorite premium infant carseats (it’s one of our Editors’ Picks from our Recommended Seats List). And, soon chemical-conscious parents in North America will have the option to buy a MESA model with a merino wool blend cover that is naturally flame retardant!

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This new model, called “Henry/ Blue Marl” (which is actually more grey than blue), will be the first chemical-free infant carseat trim cover! You’re going to shell out $50 more for that particular fashion, but if reducing your child’s exposure to certain chemicals is high on your list of priorities, we don’t think an extra $50 for a wool blend cover that is naturally flame retardant is unreasonable.

Aside from being the “Greenest” carseat, MESA is packed with safety and convenience features. The base is a breeze to install with lower LATCH connectors. Seatbelt install is easy too thanks to the lockoff on the base. This model fits preemies and small newborns well. And of course, it’s compatible with the wildly popular UPPAbaby VISTA & CRUZ strollers if you want to create an ultra-premium travel system. Check out our UPPAbaby MESA Review for the full scoop.

Why Merino Wool?

Merino wool is the only fiber that is naturally flame retardant. For this reason organic mattresses have been made with wool for years. Merino wool is also well-known for being a wicking fiber which makes it comfortable in both warm and cool weather. This is not the itchy wool sweaters of your youth – merino wool doesn’t feel like traditional wool and it won’t bother even the most sensitive baby skin. We all touched the Henry cover and agreed that it felt smooth and lovely.

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Why do most carseats have chemical flame retardants added?

Unfortunately, the fact is that an antiquated federal law requires manufacturers to meet strict flammability standards and it’s very difficult (although clearly not impossible) to meet those standards without adding chemical flame retardants. However, manufacturers do have a choice as to which chemicals they use and how they use them.

UPPAbaby deserves huge kudos for finding a way to meet the flammability standards without adding flame retardants to the cover! They also used energy-absorbing EPP foam (instead of EPS foam) because EPP doesn’t require additional flame retardants. As a side note, all current (non-Henry) MESA models meet the flammability standards without using brominated or chlorinated chemicals (e.g. PBB’s and PBDE’s), which are considered the worst offenders.

“Henry” will be arriving early Spring 2017. We will update the ETA as we get closer to the launch date and have more specific information.

MSRP for “Henry” fashion will be $349. 

So, what do we think?

We were so impressed, that we awarded UPPAbaby with one of our exclusive “Shut Up & Take My Money” Awards for Best New Product at the 2016 ABC Kids Expo! Congrats to UPPAbaby for being the first to market with a naturally flame retardant carseat cover! We hope to see many more of these in the future.

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