Rear-facing: 5 Times Safer than Forward-facing

Posted in: home, Rear-Facing Seats


American Academy of Pediatrics Recommends Rear-Facing until Age 2 (at least!)

4y/o rear-facing

4y/o rear-facing

Current Research and Evidence

What seats are big enough for 2-year-olds rear-facing?

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.

Why is rear-facing safer?

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.

What about their legs?

3-year-old happily rear-facing

3-year-old happily rear-facing

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.

My toddler wants to see out!

DSC_0581Rear-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.

2.5y 38lbs 37in rear-facing in Clek Foonf

2.5y 38lbs 37in rear-facing in Clek Foonf

My toddler gets motion sick!

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.

My toddler gets bored!

Here are some toys and games for kids of different ages that are travel friendly.

The Car Seat Lady’s Recommendations

4y/o rear-facing in Graco My Ride 65

4y/o rear-facing in Graco My Ride 65

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.

References (includes studies linked above)

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.

40 Responses to “Rear-facing: 5 Times Safer than Forward-facing”

  1. […] American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations are that kids remain rear-facing until AT LEAST 24…, and hopefully longer. Studies show that rear-facing is 5 times safer than forward-facing and […]

  2. Karie says:

    Could you recommend a car seat for a child with a tall torso? My 19 month old is 34 inches tall and mostly torso. He won’t hit weigh for awhile but height he will soon. We currently have the Evenflo Symphony DXL and just reviewed the instructions and it sounds like you shouldn’t adjust the head rest more than two clicks when rear facing. That means we have about half an inch to go.

    • Here are some convertible seats with high rear-facing weight limits as well as very high seated heights: Clek Foonf, Clek Fllo, Diono (all models), Graco 4Ever.

      • Ann says:

        Thank you for these recommendations. I have the same problem, a very tall 17 month old who is too tall to continue to rear face in his Combi Cocorro. Could you comment on ease of installation for these seats? We live in NYC and don’t own a car, so we are frequently installing in rentals etc. Thank you!

  3. Diane Langlois says:

    Awww that’s my baby girl in the pink Diono holding her little dog. <3 Love that she is helping to spread the importance of extended rear facing. She loved rear facing. 🙂

  4. Steve says:

    I read an article about changing the angle of rear facing car seats as a child gets older, yet still fits properly in the seat rear facing (we have the Graco My Ride 70).

    Since we have a second child on the way, my son’s seat will likely need to be moved to one of the outer seats instead of the center just to allow for proper space (and we’ll have both in convertible seats rear facing once appropriate). The convertible seat doesn’t really fit well behind the front seats without sliding the front seat forward. What are my options? Thank you.

    • You may want to select a seat that takes up less room into the front seat – like the Cybex Aton/Aton2 for the baby (takes up 4 inches less room than other infant seats) or the Graco Milestone, Graco 4Ever, Clek Fllo (without anti-rebound bar), Diono Radians (used with angle adjuster) – for your older child.

  5. Janet says:

    Is there any literature that you’re aware of that discusses spine injuries (either the existence of them or relative lack thereof) in rear-facing mode to children when their legs are scrunched up, in froggy position, etc.? I understand and agree rear-facing is better for as long as possible, but have never heard anyone discuss what might happen to the spine when the legs have to be scrunched up. Thanks so much.

    • I have not seen or heard of any spine injuries to rear-facing children due to the froggy position they typically sit in. If a child is buckled in properly their spine should be straight – as their back should be flush against the back of the car seat and not able to pull away from the back of the seat. The froggy position only changes the position of the hip joint (and no, I’ve not heard of any problems to children’s hip joints from sitting this way – as their joints are much more open than ours and their ligaments looser).

      • Janet says:

        Thanks so much for your quick response and your info! I really appreciate it. Also, thanks for your RF tethering info; I’ve just set this up and it feels much safer. Thanks!

  6. kendra says:

    I have to tell you that I was shocked when I was at the Disney Hilton Head Resort last week and we had to use their transportation to be able to participate in the outing. They had a forward facing seat that was not even installed properly. I pulled up the laws for South Carolina and found the age/weight guidelines were rear facing 1 year/20 lbs. We didn’t do anything else that we had to use their transportation for the rest of the trip.

  7. Jennifer says:

    We’ve rearfaced our kids both until about 2.5 and we wanted to rear face them longer, but we live in Illinois, where we get nasty winters, both temperature and snow/slush/mud and that’s what made us turn our kids around…. their shoes got their pants and carseats soaked and filthy and when it’s 20 below, it’s not really practical to have everyone take off their shoes and then put them back on again getting 3 kids in and out of the car. The other problem was that rear facing, as they got bigger it was very difficult for them to climb into their carseats with the opening the wings of the seat provided with the opening of the car door. We’d love to rear face our 3rd child who is still just a baby longer but we’re stumped! Any tips for overcoming these issues?

    • Yes – messy boots can be messy! Here’s a few ideas:
      Use a seat protector (or make your own using a thick plastic shower curtain) – and have it cover the vehicle seat where their feet rest. To secure this seat protector, either secure it to the vehicle head rest (or with a plastic shower curtain, punch two holes, remove the vehicle head rest, and stick the head rest back in making sure the head rest spokes go through the holes in the shower curtain) or use the vehicle’s top tether anchor to rig something up to secure it.
      For the ease of climbing in and out – we find that car seats with lower sides, and more of an opening between the car seat and the vehicle seat back make for easier climbing in/out. We love the Clek seats for this reason – our kids were able to climb in themselves starting at 18 months.

  8. Laura says:

    My one year old is currently in a rear-facing seat that has a weight limit of 22lbs and a height limit of 29″. She is 16lbs and 28″. It’s just her legs that are getting too long, her head is still below the top of the shell. We have a forward-facing seat we can use when she gets to 20lbs, but I’d rather not buy another car seat for the in-between (money is tight). Can I ignore the height limit and just go by weight?

    • She will not be ready to go forward-facing at 20 pounds – as kids need to be AT LEAST 2 years old to go forward-facing. Her legs can be as long as they want so long as her head has enough room. However, there are also very budget friendly options for car seats that can take her rear-facing to at least 2, that are not infant seats. The Cosco Scenera NEXT would be one to consider as it is under $50.

  9. ls says:

    I have a graco My Ride 70 for my almost 2 year old. He is less than 40 inches tall and ~35 pounds. My husband brought his car in to have the seats inspected with the infant added for our new baby. The moved the seat to forward facing, which I do not think is correct????? According to the graco website, I think he should be ok until he is 40 inches tall. Are the inspectors wrong?

  10. Mary says:

    What if you have a small car like I do. I have a fear of someone smashing into the back of my car because they fail to stop and I fear that if my two year old daughter is in the car, she will be injured because of the glass hitting her face or something from the impact.

    • Even if you are forward-facing the glass can still fly and hit/land on you. If you have your rear window tinted it will laminate the glass and prevent it from shattering into tiny pieces. Front windshields are laminated – so if they get hit they stay intact, but you can see all the spider web lines of the cracks. Many side and rear windows are not laminated, and will shatter into millions of pieces of glass that can fly around.

  11. Cinnamon Little says:

    Are there any 40+lbs rear facing car seats in an affordable price range? I want my almost 3 year old to sit rear facing as long as possible. However, he is about at the weight limit (33 lbs) of our current car seats. I don’t want to turn him front facing just yet. I want to buy new seats that will accommodate him facing rear until age 4, BUT I need to buy TWO (one for my car and one for dad’s car since I take our son to preschool and daddy picks him up every day). $200+ for a car seat is ridiculous. Are there any more reasonable price ranges for extended rear facing models?

    • The Graco Contender (approx $130) has a 40 pound weight limit and basically unlimited height limit for rear-facing – so should take a 33 pound 3 year old another 2 years or so rear-facing. You’ll get an easier LATCH installation if you go up to the next level Graco seat which is the MySize/Size4Me/Fit4Me. The Graco Milestone ($210) also goes RF to 40 pounds with an unlimited seated height (but less leg room for the child than the above Graco’s) but also turns into a booster seat, so could be the child’s least seat.

      The Graco Extend2Fit which is $199 has a 50 pound rear-facing weight limit (and nearly unlimited rear-facing height limit). The straps are harder to tighten/loosen on the child on the Extend2Fit than the other Graco models.

      Safety 1st just introduced the Grow and Go EX Air 3 in 1 which goes to 50 pounds rear-facing… and like the Milestone will also turn into a booster later on.

      There are other seats by other manufacturers that are less expensive than these, but they are either quite limited in the seated height for the child, or we find the harness straps to be much more difficult to tighten/loosen on the child.

  12. ric says:

    I just purchased a convertible car seat which makes it difficult to see out of my right hand side (blind spot) when the seat is facing backwards. I can’t return the car seat and my child is 17 months old. If I turn the seat forward facing all of my visibility issues are fixed.
    What’s your recommendation about this knowing the facts about safety as far as rear facing seats but knowing that an accident may be more likely due to my visibility issues?

    • I would suggest:

      1. Moving the car seat to a different seating position in your back seat – like the center or behind the driver.
      2. Trying a different rear-facing car seat that doesn’t cause a blind spot.
      3. Trying to use your side mirrors and rear view mirror to compensate

      I would NOT suggest turning this child forward-facing.

  13. Emily says:

    We just purchased the Evenflo platinum evolve and I cannot find any reviews that aren’t about silly nit-picking issues. I’m curious if you know anything about this seat. I had not heard of it and had intended to purchase the new Grow and Go Ex Air but it is so new there was not a model available to view in store. I was impressed by the 65 RF upper weight limit and extended RF is my top priority. Any thoughts?

    • The Evenflo Platinum Evolve does NOT go rear-facing at all. It is a forward-facing ONLY seat that does 3 things: 1. forward-facing 5 point harness for kids up to 65 pounds (but kids are typically too tall long before 65 pounds) and then turns into a 2. high back booster, and then into a 3. backless booster. The 3 things it does are different from the 3 things that the Grow and Go does. The Grow and Go does: 1. Rear-facing to 50 pounds (if it is the EX Air model) 2. Forward-facing with a 5 point harness to 65 pounds and 3. High back booster.

  14. Amanda says:

    I’m on board for refacing my little one as long as possible, but we have an Evenflo Sure Ride that takes up so much space (back to front) that the front passenger seat is pretty much unusable. Any suggestions for car seats that take away less legroom from the front seats? I’ve heard the Britax Marathon Clicktight might be better. What are your thoughts?

  15. Sarah says:

    My in-laws had never heard of rear-facing seats and they bought a convertible (9-20kg) seat that only says forward-facing in the manual. They are in the UK, and we don’t own a car, so it makes more sense for them to have their own. But can we turn around a “forward-facing” seat? Or do I have to insist on a new seat?

  16. Traveler says:

    We’re considering traveling the US for about 1 month when our kids are 6,5 and just 4. At home the youngest will be rearfacing without any problems but since European seats aren’t allowed in the US I would like suggestions as to seats which could accomodate a tall and slim 4yearold!

    Weight will probably be slightly below 40 lb and length around 44-45 inches with a tall upper body.

    We’re going to be flying and it would be good if we could bring the seat into the cabin with us.

  17. Jessica says:

    I have and love the Diono Pacifica in my car – but my husband has the Alpha Omega Elite in his truck. My son is 3, and is 42 inches and 39 lbs – technically over the height and weight limits for the Alpha Omega – but we still have him rear facing, as his head is still under the head rest that raises up – however, it is above the actual car seat height … so is that not safe? I planned to keep him rear facing until as close to 4 as possible – and was hoping we were ok since his head was under the head rest – but worried that it’s not actually beneath the car seat itself …

    • It is not safe to use a seat above the stated weight limits or the height limit. If you want to keep him rear-facing longer, he will need a different seat (you may need a different seat for other reasons – as the Alpha Omega typically is outgrown quickly forward-facing as the top setting for the shoulder straps is not that high) and it turns into a booster that typically does a poor job of positioning the seat belt in the proper place.

  18. Catherine says:

    I heard via consumer reports that they recommend a rear-facing convertible seat over a rear-facing infant seat at one year of age because children are safer in crashes, even if they have not yet hit the height/weight limit of the infant seat. Is this the general consensus among experts? Also, we just bought a Diono Rainier to use in my 2012 VW Golf TDI (a compact car) and it is a tight fit (even with the angle adjuster). The front seats touch (and even push) it in the center seat (we could not get it to tighten sufficiently if placed in a side seat). It is also difficult to access the harness tightening/loosening controls because they are pressed up against the back seat. Finally, we are unable to tether it, as there is nowhere to anchor it. Is it safe as it is? Is there a better option that sits at less of an angle and requires less space between the back of the front seats and the back seat?

  19. Sara says:

    Do you have any insight on why British Airways would only allow front-facing car seats? Is there any argument for front-facing being safer on flights? (Incidentally, I notice that they don’t allow car seats at all for babies under 6 months.) We recently flew on an AA flight to London and didn’t realize our return flight was operated by BA, and were forced to stow our Britax B-Safe for takeoff and landing, and told to take our son out during turbulence. We hope not to find ourselves in this situation again, and now know to look carefully at each airline’s regulations. But for future reference, would an 8-month-old, 20 lb baby be safer in a convertible car seat installed forward-facing (like the Cosco Scenera, which we also own) or in a lap?

    • There is no good reason for BA’s rule. Unfortunately they are not alone. Many foreign carriers do not allow any rear-facing seats, and some don’t allow any car seats (rear or forward-facing).

      A child would be safer in a car seat – even if it is forward-facing – than on a lap.

  20. Yari says:

    I want to move my 10 month-old boy (average weight, 75-95 height percentile) to a convertible and keep him rear-facing as long as possible. I can’t afford a clek so I thought a Diono with 45lb rear-facing capacity would be a good choice but I was turned off by its lack of lock offs and 35lb weight limit for LATCH. My boy use to be in the center with seatbelt installation (no lock off on base) and the infant seat always tilted to the side from the shoulder belt tension (2006 Nissan Altima). Until I made a turn and the whole seat with my child inside turned completely sideways. I had the installation checked at the fire dept before this happened. Now he’s on the side with LATCH installation. I don’t want the same happening with a convertible. Do Dionos or convertibles install more secure with a seatbelt than infant seats with bases? I’d rather not use a locking clip since they sound difficult to install with. Is a Diono my best choice? Or is a convertible with lock offs my best choice?

    • A seat belt installation of a rear-facing car seat will almost always need either a built in locking device (like found on a Clek or the less expensive Chicco Next Fit) or a metal locking clip to prevent the tipping you experienced. I would not suggest a Diono for exactly the reasons you mentioned. A Graco Size4Me/fit4Me will keep your child rear-facing until 40 pounds and costs about $160 (the seat has a very tall seated height capacity) and would work nicely on the side with LATCH. The Clek Fllo is “on sale” for as low as $300 here right now –

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