Monday, June 3, 2013

Forward Facing Information

Forward Facing Carseats

When your child outgrows the rear-facing car seat, the child should ride in a forward-facing car seat in the back seat. A forward-facing car seat has a harness and uses a top tether to limit your child’s forward movement during a crash.

Some younger children may outgrow the weight or height limit of the forward-facing car seat with a harness, but may not be ready to stay seated properly in a booster seat using the lap and shoulder belt. If this is the case, look for a car seat with a higher size limit. (x)

A child who isn’t big enough for a booster can slide out under the belt, called “submarining”, can have the belt sit on their belly or neck and cause internal damage to the gut or the esophagus and trachea. A child who will not sit upright, with the belt over their hip bones and over their collar bone, or tries to put their arm over the belt or the shoulder belt behind their back is not mature enough to sit in a booster, and a child who constantly falls asleep in the car should also be in a harness or they can be seriously injured in a crash. There’s some debate that heavier (60-70 pound+) children may be safer in a seatbelt, but currently the recommendation is still to wait until they outgrow their harness. (x)

When Should Your Child Turn Forward-Facing?
The American Academy of Pediatrics has for many years now recommended keeping kids rear-facing until they are too big for their convertible child safety seat.

I thought I could turn my child at a year and 20 pounds?!
This was the old recommendation. In 2011 both the AAP and NHTSA updated their recommendations to reflect the latest research in child passenger safety. The AAP now recommends that kids sit rear-facing till at least age 2. Since 2002, the AAP has recommended: "If a car safety seat accommodates children rear facing to higher weights, for optimal protection, the child should remain rear facing until reaching the maximum weight for the car safety seat, as long as the top of the head is below the top of the seat back." NHTSA now recommends: "Your child should remain in a rear-facing car seat until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer." Language required in car seat instruction manuals also creates some confusion and may lead parents to believe that a 1 year old and 20 lb child must sit forward-facing in order to be safe. This is untrue for most car seats--read your owners manual carefully to note the maximum rear-facing height and weight limits, not just the minimum allowed. (x)

Picture #1

Cervical vertebrae for a one-year old (left), and beside it a cervical vertebrae for a 6 year old (right)

Picture #2

Thoracic vertebrae for a 1 yr old (left) and for a 6 yr old (right). 

Picture #3

Lumbar vertebrae for a 1 yr old (left) and for a 6 yr old (right). 

Pictures Courtesy of: Human Osteology, T. White, 2000

Note that in all pictures, the 1-yr olds' vertebrae is still in pieces. 

The vertebrae do not begin to fuse until age 3-6 years old. This is why rear-facing is the safest as it gives more support and protection to the incomplete vertebrae and therefore the spinal cord. With vertebrae in pieces, a forward facing child has a greater chance of damage to the spinal cord when their head and neck whip forward and back in a crash. This, however, brings us back to why we want to rear face children for as long as they fit into a rear facing seat. Between the new science that we’ve got and the knowledge about the spine, we’re finding that rear facing is extraordinarily protective. (x)

Crash test, unrestrained children

This shows what could happen to an unrestrained 3 year old (through front windowshield), 10 year old (cracks head into driver's head), and baby (airbag causes it to hit seat back) in a carseat in front of an airbag.

At 30kmh (18 mph) the result of a crash involving unrestrained children is like dropping them, head first off a 3rd story balcony. Of course it goes up from there D: 

Unrestrained Child Crash Test 

Two children are involved in a car crash - one child walks away frightened and bruised and the other is taken to the hospital with life-threatening injuries. The difference? A properly installed car seat.

This UMTRI video, which features child-size dummies, illustrates that scenario and shows exactly what can happened if a child is not properly secured in a car seat.

During the test, two 33-pound crash test dummies representing 3-year-old children were placed in the rear seat of a vehicle, one in a forward facing car seat and one completely unrestrained.

The dummies were then subject to a lab test simulating a moderate-to-severe crash at about 30 miles per hour. In the time it takes to blink an eye, the unrestrained dummy was launched forward into the front passenger seat and then ejected from the side of the back seat experiencing severe head and neck impact while the dummy in the car seat was thrown forward only slightly and pulled back by the harness and seat belt.

There are 5 types of car safety restraints that can be used forward-facing. 
Convertible seats—Seats that “convert” from rear-facing to forward-facing seats. These include 3-in-1 seats. 
Forward-facing only—Seats can be used forward-facing with a harness for children who weigh up to 40 to 80 pounds (depending on the model). Although manufacturers are not currently making any forward-facing only seats, many remain in use from previous years. 
Combination seat with harness—Seats can be used forward-facing with a harness for children who weigh up to 40 to 90 pounds (depending on the model) or without the harness as a booster (up to 80–120 pounds, depending on the model). 
Built-in seats—Some vehicles come with built-in forward-facing seats. Weight and height limits vary. Read your vehicle owner’s manual or contact the manufacturer for details about how to use these seats. 
Travel vests—Vests can be worn by children between 20 and 168 pounds and can be an option to traditional forward-facing seats. They are useful for when a vehicle has lap-only seat belts in the rear or for children whose weight has exceeded that allowed by car seats. These vests may require use of a top tether.

How Will I Know When My Child Has Outgrown Their FF Seat?

Read your manual. It will tell you what you need to know. If you've misplaced the manual you can usually find a pdf online at the company that made your seat's website. As a rule of thumb, though, FF seats are outgrown when the tip of a child's ears are over the top edge of the seat, their shoulders are over the highest strap setting, and/or they've reach the FF weight limit.

If you're unsure of what anything in your manual means you can ask at or the FB groups I link to in Free Seats, Car Seat Checks, and Car Seat Advice.

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