New study confirms rear-facing car seats are safest, even if you’re hit from behind

If you’re an ’80s kid like me, you probably grew up rolling around in the “way-back” of your parents’ station wagon on family road trips. Chances are you were out of a car seat before your toddler years. And who knows if you used a booster.

Well, as all 21st-century parents know, things are different now. We know better, so we do better. Kids are usually kept in rear-facing car seats until age 2, and a recent study has proven this to be the safest option — even in the event of a rear-impact crash.

“The car seats supported the child throughout the crash,” Julie Mansfield, a researcher at Ohio State University and the lead author of the study, told Today Parents. “A lot of the crash energy was absorbed through the car seat interacting with the vehicle seat, so that reduced the amount of energy transferred into the (child).”

Mansfield’s study was the first of its kind, as previous research tended to focus on front and side impact crashes. But since rear-end collisions account for 25% of accidents, this was an important topic to address.

Lorrie Walker, training manager and technical advisor for Safe Kids Buckle Up Program says she’s not surprised by these findings.

“We know these car seats just do yeoman’s work,” she says. “If they made them for adults, I would ride in them.” And she adds that a properly installed rear-facing car seat “reduces the stress on the neck, head, and spine” of the child.

Although only eight states mandate that parents keep their children rear-facing until age 2, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all parents do so, for the reasons proven by studies like Mansfield’s.

“Parents often look forward to transitioning from one stage to the next, but these transitions should generally be delayed until they’re necessary, when the child fully outgrows the limits for his or her current stage,” says Dennis Durbin, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement and accompanying technical report put out by the AAP.

This is a mistake I certainly made with my first child. We flipped him forward on his first birthday in 2009. It was what most parents did at the time (as far as I knew.) We were excited to finally get to see his face when driving around and be able to hand him snacks and toys. In hindsight, there was no reason other than convenience to turn him to forward facing, and once we learned the stats, we waited with his younger siblings.

Know better, do better.

Furthermore, The Ultimate Car Seat Guide on reminds that in order to keep their kids rear-facing, parents may need to purchase more than one car seat over time.

“As your child grows, you might have to switch from using a smaller rear-facing-only car seat to using a bigger rear-facing convertible car seat that can hold a larger child,” the guide explains. “After your child reaches the weight limit for rear-facing, you will then turn the convertible seat forward-facing, or use a forward-facing car seat with a 5-point harness and top tether.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that children under age 2 are actually “75% less likely to die or be severely injured in a crash if they are riding rear-facing.” Seventy-five percent. That’s a big number. And it proves that it’s worth the extra cash if you have to buy a new seat for an older baby or toddler. It’s also worth the delay in seeing those cute dimples in the rear-view mirror.

After all, parents would probably rather have their child’s car seat be rear-facing than have that seat be empty all together.

For tips on what type of car seat your child needs and how to properly install it, visit or The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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