The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released new recommendations for child seat safety guidelines. I know that within our group of friends, small as it may be, there have been some relatively heated debates about this subject. I'd like to tackle it publicly and welcome your comments at the end of this post. And for those of you who have had these same debates with your friends, please send them this way, the more followers, the merrier.
We were definitely aware of the changes that were made on March 21, 2011, however, we were fairly indifferent about changing Stella back to rear facing in her car seat. Our small debate on the subject went something like this:
Jennifer: Do you think we should switch her back around? She's been forward-facing almost a year now.
Jared: I don't know, she really seems to like looking out the window now, and the cord for her DVD player hangs across the seat when it's on the back and she can reach it better to unplug it.
Jennifer: Yeah, you're right, it doesn't seem to be worth the hassle.
That's right, our decision at the time was based on Stella liking to look out the window (which she has never been able to voice to us) and the location of the DVD player cord. Now that I relive that thought process, I'm astonished that we went about things that way. We're the parents who sit down with our laptops and race to see who can find the best studies and information on any product that we might want to purchase. We have long, detailed discussions about whether or not we should enter a contest where we might win a new car. What are the safety ratings? What is the MPG? Are the tires expensive to replace? If there's a question about it, we'll debate it. This wasn't the case two years ago before we were proud parents, we had a similar short discussion on what kind of diapers to use before Stella was born (ultimately disposables won, but now, probably a few thousand dollars later, we've switched), basing our decision on convenience and that the cost of investing in cloth seemed daunting.
So now, after watching another episode of My Baby Experts on a recent Tuesday night, we've decided that it is safest for our daughter to be turned back around to rear-facing. There's a lot of data out there that we really just don't know about, and that our Federal Government doesn't tell us. It is my belief that, if they gave us a little bit more background information on their reasoning, people might listen a little more closely. Not that it's not a good idea simply for the safety of your child, but here are a few key points:
1.) In the Netherlands from 2005-2007, one, that's right ONE death was caused by car accidents to children aged 0-5 years old (See Figure 3 on Page 4 here). Children in this country MUST be rear-facing until at least 3 years of age. At that point, they MUST use the correct child restraint (booster seat) until the child reaches 12 years of age or 1.35 meters (4'-5"), at which time they MUST wear a seatbelt.
2.) Sweden requires children to be rear-facing until the age of 4. They have the lowest car accident mortality rate in the world.
3.) These are NHTSA recommendations, not the law. The NHTSA still recommends that you consult the guidelines set forth by the manufacturer of your specific car seat. Each manufacturer has different weight restrictions for rear and forward facing.
There are other things to take into consideration outside of these three facts. For instance: It is easier to fix a broken leg suffered because your child is rear-facing than it is to fix a broken neck because the child's head snapped forward upon impact. You may "trust" your car and it's safety rating or your own personal driving habits and record, but what happens when someone else hits you? Will suing the government or car seat manufacturer bring your child back from a vegetative state or death? Do you really have to reach back and hand your one-year-old food while you are driving? Should your child really be eating in the car in the first place? Are you sure there isn't another way to run the cord for the DVD player? These are actual reasons that people have given on other websites as to why they won't turn their child back around.
We have found in our case that Stella almost seems to prefer riding backwards. There has been no arching of the back because she doesn't want to get into her seat. I ran the cord under a seat cover that we purchased to protect the seat, so it's not intrusive on anyone else riding in the back seat and she can't reach the cord. Stella has figured out that she can sit different ways to be comfortable with less leg room. And we feel better that if someone does hit us, or we hit something else, that her seat will absorb the impact and cushion her head rather than have it snap forward, risking a neck injury. Children don't die from the impact of a car accident, they die from the injuries suffered in that accident. Our daughter will suffer less injuries now that she is rear-facing.
I'm not going to condemn anyone for deciding not to turn their child back around. I only ask that you consider what I wrote in this post. Ultimately it is your decision. Maybe your son or daughter is big for their age, our's happens to take after her mother and is quite petite. That's fine, I get it. We couldn't wait to turn Stella to forward-facing, either, though I'm not really sure why. I guess we thought she was cramped, again, not that she could actually tell us. But we have made the decision to turn her back around for as long as we can because it just feels right. We're happy and so is she, and that is ultimately what matters.