"When can I turn my child forward in their car seat?" is probably the most frequently asked child passenger safety question that I've heard from parents over the years. Many of us in the medical and child passenger safety community have long advocated for children to remain rear-facing longer. Then in 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics formally affirmed that stance with its best practice recommendation that children should remain in a rear-facing car seat until at least age 2, or until they have outgrown the height and weight limits of their rear-facing seat.
Beginning August 12 this year, parents in Pennsylvania will no longer have to wonder if their child under 2 years should remain rear-facing, as Pennsylvania is the fourth state to pass legislation requiring that children are restrained in rear-facing child restraint systems until at least age 2, or they have outgrown the height and weight limitations for their rear-facing seat. You may have some questions, or even concerns, about this new law and what it means for your family. Here is a Q&A that I hope is helpful:
What is changing?
The current version of the law requires that all children under 4 years of age are restrained in an approved child passenger restraint system, and children between 4 and 8 years of age are restrained in a booster seat. Beginning in August, the new law expands this by specifically requiring children under age 2 to ride rear-facing. There two types of car seats that can be used rear-facing: convertible car seats and infant-only car seats.
Is there a penalty if my child is under 2 and is restrained forward-facing?
For the first year, officers will only give verbal warnings to offenders. Beginning August 2017, each violation will result in a $125 fine.
Why is this law necessary? I just turned my 18-month-old forward-facing a few weeks ago—will I need to turn him back to rear-facing?
The AAP's best practice recommendation (and the
new state law) is based on years of scientific evidence, which established that a rear-facing car seat does a better job of supporting the head, neck and spine of infants and toddlers in a crash, because it distributes the force of the collision over the entire body.
The "age 2" recommendation is not a deadline, but rather a guideline to help parents decide when to make the transition. Smaller children will benefit from remaining rear-facing longer than age 2, while other children may reach the maximum height or weight before 2 years of age. Pennsylvania's new law provides an exemption for children who are under age 2 but have outgrown the height and weight limitations of their rear-facing car seat to transition to a forward-facing seat earlier.
What about my baby's legs touching the seat-back while rear-facing?
Children are flexible and most children learn to cross their legs when their feet touch the vehicle seat back. There is no evidence that longer legs are at risk of injury riding rear-facing. Remember, you're protecting your babies' neck and spinal cord by having him ride rear-facing.
If you still have questions about how Pennsylvania's new law impacts your family, I would encourage you to visit your local car seat inspection station, where a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician can provide information on the safest choices for your family. You can find your local inspection station on the Safe Kids website.
For more information about child passenger safety as your child grows, visit Children's Car Seat Safety for Kids website.