Convertible seats are ones that start rear-facing and then convert to forward-facing for older kids; kids typically start using a convertible seat rear-facing after out-growing an infant seat. The weight limit for rear-facing is now typically 40 pounds for most convertible seats, with several even going to 50 pounds rear-facing. The height limit is typically the same for most rear-facing seats – the child’s head must be at least 1 inch below the top of the car seat.
This video we made shows 90 2-year-olds all riding rear-facing. Wondering if they are comfortable… check out that half are sleeping and the other half are smiling. Wondering what they do with their legs – check out the different ways they find to position them.
Instead of having your head pull violently away from your chest, as happens when you are forward-facing in a frontal crash, the rear-facing child is cradled in their seat in much the same way as you catch a fastball in a mitt. This video shows two 12-month-old crash test dummies each secured in the same car seat but one is rear-facing and one is forward-facing – watch how much the forward-facing dummy’s head and neck move – and remember that this video is slowed down tremendously as crashes happen quicker than the blink of an eye. For more on the physics behind why rear-facing is safer, see here.
As kids get older, their feet will touch the back of the vehicle seat; this is both comfortable and safe. Ever wonder why a 5-year-old can sleep comfortably with his chin on his chest and never wake up complaining of a stiff neck? It’s because kids’ joints aren’t fully formed, which lets them sit comfortably in positions that would be painful for even a yoga master. For this reason, a 3-year-old can sit comfortably rear-facing with her legs crossed or in the “frog leg” position.
Other parents worry about leg injuries; studies show that forward-facing kids suffer many more leg injuries than rear-facing kids. The leg injuries to forward-facing children occur when the child’s legs fly up and hit the back of the front seat and the front seat moves backwards, compressing the child’s legs. Rear-facing kids will often go into a “cannonball” position during a frontal crash… meaning that however scrunched they might look, they end up super scrunched in the instant of a crash and we know that this does not cause injury.
Rear-facing does not have to be boring! Older kids can ride quite upright so they can see out the side and rear windows. If there’s a head rest blocking your child’s view out the back window, you can usually remove it. By 9-12 months your baby knows you’re there when you talk to them from the front – even though they can’t see you. You can calm and entertain your child with songs and stories – and for older children games of “I spy” – all while they are rear-facing.
Volvo looked at several thousand pre-schoolers and found the same rates of motion sickness in those riding rear-facing as those riding forward-facing. Regardless of the direction your child rides, placing them in the center seat with an unobstructed view out the front/back window (and limited visibility out the side windows) will help keep the nausea away. See here for more info about how to help a child who gets motion sick.
Here are some toys and games for kids of different ages that are travel friendly.
It’s not coincidence that flight attendants sit rear-facing. Rear-facing is the safest way for everyone to travel, not just babies. Therefore, it is our recommendation that children ride rear-facing until at least age 2 – and ideally longer, until reaching the maximum height or weight for rear-facing in their convertible car seat, which for most kids is around 2-4 years old.
Note that it is now law in a few states (NJ since Sept 2015, OK starting Nov 2015, CA starting Jan 2017) that children ride rear-facing until at least age 2.
1. American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Injury, Violence & Poison Prevention. Child Passenger Safety. Pediatrics. 2011; 127: 788-793.
2. Henary B, et al. Car Safety Seats for Children: Rear Facing for Best Protection. Injury Prevention. 2007; 13 (6): 398-402.
3. Bull M, Durbin D. Rear-Facing Car Safety Seats: Getting the Message Right. Pediatrics. 2008; 121 (3): 619-20.
4. Watson E, Monteiro M. Advise Use of Rear Facing Child Car Seats for Children Under 4 Years Old. BMJ. 2009; 338: b1994.
5. Arbogast KB, et al. Injuries to Children in Forward Facing Child Restraints. Annu Proc Assoc Adv Automot Med. 2002; 46: 213-30.