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Experts update guidelines to protect kids

Sept. 13, 2018—The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has made a small but significant change to its recommendations on car seats for children.

The AAP now recommends that children stay in rear-facing car seats as long as possible, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat. The previous guideline said children should transition to forward-facing seats at age 2.

Most car seats today allow children to remain rear-facing until they weigh 40 pounds or more, according to the AAP. That means most children can remain rear-facing past their second birthday.

That's important because rear-facing is the safest way for children to ride in cars. In rear-facing seats, a child's head, neck and spine are all supported and protected by the hard shell of the car safety seat. In a crash, the car seat absorbs most of the crash forces. In forward-facing seats, children's heads are thrown forward, possibly leading to spine and head injuries.

Parents can find their car seat's height and weight limits in the instruction manual or on the seat's labels.

The AAP's recommendations for children riding in cars are:

  • Infants and toddlers should ride in rear-facing seats until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat.
  • Children should use a forward-facing car seat with a harness until they reach the height and weight limits for their seats. Many seats can hold children weighing up to 65 pounds or more, according to the AAP.
  • Children should next be moved into a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle's lap and shoulder seat belts fit properly.
  • When children are old enough and large enough to use the vehicle's seat belt alone, they should always use lap and shoulder seat belts for the best protection. And until they are 13 years old, all children should ride in the rear seats of vehicles.

Using the right car safety seat or booster seat lowers a child's risk of death or serious injury by more than 70 percent, according to the AAP.

You can read the AAP's full report on the new guidelines online.

For advice on choosing the right car seat for your child, check out our assessment tool.

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