Car Seat Safety: Rear Facing and Extended Rear Facing

Rear facing and extended rear facing has become something that I am very passionate about. Why? Because like many people, I looked at Marley’s first birthday as that magical milestone where we could turn her car seat around so she to sit like a big kid. How exciting and fun! Within the week of her turning a year old, I installed her car seat forward facing and gleefully strapped her in it. She looked so big and stared around in wonder at the new world in front of her.

Then we went for a drive. And she fell asleep and her head slumped forward and her whole little body seemed to be straining against the seat.

I was stuck in traffic and was literally having a panic attack, looking back at my little baby. She looked so uncomfortable, she looked so open, so unprotected, so WRONG. I got home as slowly and safely as possible, through my own tears, keeping a constant eye on Marley in the back seat. I got home and ripped my car seat out of the car, completely upset.

That week, I started my car seat training at my new job (see my first post about why car seat safety means so much to me HERE)  and our very first day was about the importance of rear facing. My mind was blown by the statistics I was given:

  • Rear facing your child reduces the risk of death by 71%.
  • Motor vehicle crashes are the #1 overall cause of death for children 14 and under.
  • Forward-facing children under the age of 2 are 75% more likely to be injured.
  • 7 out of 10 car seats are installed or used incorrectly

That’s all I needed to hear to make the decision to turn Marley’s seat rear facing, and have her seat installed by a professional. I knew her car seat was manufactured to rear face up to 45lbs, but I had never considered keeping her there longer than the minimum 22lbs. Why? Like most people, I had never heard these statistics before and I had no idea how much safer it was.

Aside from those statistics, we viewed some crash test videos and were given in depth detail as to what happens to a child in a frontal crash (which account for close to 96% of all crashes), and how rear facing protects them better.

  • In a frontal crash, the entire back of a rear-facing car seat absorbs crash forces, protecting the child’s head, neck, and spine.
  • In a impact, everything travels to the point of impact, a rear-facing seat does a better job of keeping a child’s head contained within the safety of the seat.
  • The weight of a child’s head in a crash causes the spinal column to stretch. The spinal column can stretch up to 2 inches but the spinal cord can only stretch up to 1/4 inch before it snaps, which means paralysis or even death.

A common myth that is constantly brought up is; “My child’s feet are touching the back of the seat.” or “My child’s legs are dangling out of the infant seat.” OR “If you get into an accident like that, they will break their legs!” and so most people assume it is time to switch car seats or turn them rear facing.  Not the case at all. If a child is under the age of one and 22lbs, they legally HAVE TO be in a rear facing seat, and in both Canada and the USA they are pushing people to rear face up to two years old, or as long as your car seat will allow. As long as a child is within the weight and length limit of the car seat specs, they are safe. Because every child’s proportions are different, the general guideline is that there has to be at least 1″ of car seat shell above their head.

As far as the legs touching the back of the seat, there is no harm on their legs either propped up, or crossed, you would be surprised at how comfortable a child can be like that. I have yet to come across a reported case of a leg/foot injury because of extended rear facing. In any case, a broken leg is much easier to repair than a broken neck or spinal injury.

Taken last week; Marley at 2 years old, 27 lbs

Taken last week; Marley at 2 years old and 27lbs

So what are some important things to know about car seat use in general:

  • Look for a seat with higher rear facing weight/height limits.
  • Harness must be positioned at or just below the shoulders, chest clip at the armpits.
  • Adjust your straps every trip, the harness should be snug. Use the pinch test: grabbing the harness at shoulder level, try to “pinch” the harness together from top to bottom. You should not be able to pinch a vertical fold on a snug harness.
  • Twists in the car seat straps lower the effectiveness of the harness. Ensure they are straight, and tangle free.
  • Proper installation is vital and it is highly recommended to have it professionally installed. The seat should be very secure, not movable, and at the proper angle for your child. Most professionals will recommend you purchase two seats, instead of switching the seat between cars, to ensure it is always properly and securely installed.
  • Test the seat to make sure it fits correctly in the vehicle before you purchase it. You must be able to recline up to 45 degrees for newborn, with a fist space between the back of the car seat and the seat in front of them. There needs to be this space to allow the car seat to “ride out” the collision and absorb the impact.
  • Most seats have a 5-6 your expiry, Britax is 7 years, sunshine kids is 8 years.
  • It is not recommended to purchase a used car seat. You never know the conditions it was stored in, or what the history of it is.

Marley is now 2 years old, 35 inches tall and 27lbs. She is happily rear facing in a Britax Marathon (USA, Canada) and will continue to do so for quite a while. Will I keep her there until the maximum  40lbs her seat will hold? No, probably not, but she will be there as long as she is able to for her height. There are few things we can do to ensure the safety of our children, please take this knowledge and protect your precious cargo.

For those visual people out there, here are some truly amazing videos which show crash tests:

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  1. 1


    This post is amazing!!!
    I love it. My son has a marathon and is rear facing till he outgrows the seat and then I will probably buy another one to keep him RFing longer. I’m just doing whatever the Swedes do and they RF till 5 or 6

  2. 2

    Kayla says

    Thank you for putting all this information together in one easy to read article! I see so many people not use car seats correctly an it breaks my heart. I am directing everyone I can to this article.

  3. 3

    Kayla says

    After I shared your post on FB, I received this comment from my friend:
    “Kayla, I just have to thank you so much for posting this! I literally turned Brooke’s “Big Girl” car seat forward this morning, and She and I were so excited to have her facing forward…..after reading your post, I just went out to my car and turned her seat back to rear facing! THANK YOU for this awesome post!!!”

    Keep up the AMAZING work :)

  4. 5

    Hayley says

    Thanks for sharing this! Ive been a cpst for 4 years now and started the same way as you (except I’m a nanny).
    I just wanted to clarify though, I think your britax goes to 40lbs, not like the 45lbs you stated. :)
    It’s so great to see more people do the class and get the word out to the world! It makes me sad to see little babies FF despite the info I’ve given parents. I guess we don’t have the same priorities. :(
    Thanks again for sharing!!

  5. 7

    Leah says

    Love your mission. My son will be 2 next week, is 24 lbs and 35?ish inches tall, and he will NOT be turned around to Forward Facing anytime soon. He is happy Rear Facing in his C670 True Fit Premier, and I am happy knowing he is safer. “The importance of Rear Facing” is a link i have in my babycenter signature, and i always hope people click it to see that video. It needs to be viral. I think if more people actually took the time to SEE the impact differences they too might change their minds from FF to RF.

  6. 9

    Traceu says

    Booster Seat still for us!

    My child is 7 and weighs only 60 pounds, she is tall and very slim. We have decided to
    keep her in her booster chair, for one she likes it and we feel she is to light to respond well
    from any kind of impact our care may have.Its been proven over and over again that they are
    safer in their seats. We also wont allow our child to sit in the front seat… the
    statistics on that and you wont either. She is our only child and its our “job” to do the
    right and safe thing ALWAYS!!!!

  7. 10

    Karen says

    We kept our son rearfacing until just after his 3rd birthday. Safety first!
    Apparently in Sweden it is the law to keep a child rearfacing until they are four.


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