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Car Seat Company Ups Forward-Facing Age Requirement – Here’s Why It’s a Big Deal

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As a mom and a Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST), I’m a big advocate for all children using a rear-facing car seat until they are at least two; science has shown that children are significantly safer this way. While car seat laws are gradually improving, there are currently no laws that mandate rear-facing beyond age 1.

But that may be changing soon.

Last week, CPSTs from all around the country gathered in Albuquerque, New Mexico for the annual Kidz in Motion National Child Passenger Safety Technician Conference. (What’s your idea of an exciting vacation? Is it a car seat convention? Because for some of us, the answer is yes.)

The conference allows CPSTs to meet directly with car seat manufacturers, get sneak peeks of new seats, ask questions about existing seats, and discuss the future of child passenger safety.

There were a number of announcements at the conference, but none as significant as the one from car seat company Cosco. Starting January 1, 2015, their convertible car seats will now have an updated requirement to transition to forward-facing, in addition to the standard height and weight minimums.

Their new seats, the updated Scenera and the Apt 50, both known for being budget- and user-friendly, will now require children to be 2 years of age before they are allowed to ride forward-facing, instead of the standard 1-year limit that all other convertibles carry.

Why make this change? In the past decade, both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration released recommendations that children remain rear-facing until at least age 2, longer if they are within the height and weight limits of their seat. The reason for their recommendation is that toddlers are a particularly high-risk group for neck injuries when forward-facing in a car seat.

To get science-y for a moment, the reason for this is two-fold: 1) Children younger than age 4 have proportionally very large heads and very small neck muscles, so in a crash, their necks have a hard time controlling the movement of the head. This causes the spinal cord to be stretched and, in some cases, to tear. 2) Prior to ages 4-6, the spine is made mostly of cartilage, which is softer than bone and cannot withstand the forces of a crash, once again putting the spinal cord at risk. When children sit rear-facing, both of these become non-issues because the child’s head and spine are supported in the car seat.

While many people have called for laws that force parents to keep children rear-facing until at least age 2, there are still no states with that law on the books. All 50 states require parents to have car seats for infants and children that meet certain height and weight requirements, and that car seats are installed and used properly. This means that if a police officer pulls you over for a traffic violation and sees that your car seat is used improperly (which can include improper installation, improper use, etc), you can receive a ticket.

That’s why the announcement from Cosco is a big deal. Because of the “proper use” part of the car seat laws, in 2015 it will be illegal for children to forward-face before age 2 in the Scenera and Apt 50 car seats.

We’ve never before been able to take such a solid stand for child passenger safety, and the hope is that once Cosco starts this trend, other companies will follow suit.

Car seat companies have come a long way in making seats that can hold children of all shapes and sizes and fit every family’s budget. Now they’re leading the way to make sure that more children stay safer in their car seats, too.

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