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Pediatricians Announce New Car Seat Guidelines

Your child's first birthday is a big milestone, but it shouldn't be celebrated by switching his or her car seat from rear to front facing.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has released a new policy statement that says one year is too soon to make the switch. "This really is good news," says Fran Mayko of the Automobile Association of America (AAA) Southern New England . "It's something child passenger safety seat educators have advocated for a long time. Parents don't understand that Connecticut law – which is keeping a child rear facing until he or she is one year-old and 20 pounds – is merely a minimum requirement."

Research proves that keeping children rear facing "to a higher weight and a higher age" is safer than just meeting the minimum requirement, Fran says. A 2007 University of Virginia study found that children under the age of two are 75 percent less likely to suffer severe or fatal injuries in a crash if they are facing the rear. But Fran adds that some parents choose to ignore safety issues for other reasons. "For many parents this might seem like an inconvenience. They think their child 'wants to look out the window.' But rear-facing seats are much better at supported a baby's underdeveloped head, neck and spine in a crash."

NHTSA has weighed in as well, stating that whether kids are kept in a rear- or forward-facing seat, it is important children always ride in the back. If the back seat is unavailable, NHTSA states on its website, passenger air bags should be turned off when car seats are in front of them.

AAP also advises that children between the ages of eight and 12 should ride in a belt-positioning booster seat until they are four feet nine inches tall. Booster seats allow the car's seat belts to fit properly, which means the lap section fits low across the passenger's hips and pelvis, while the shoulder portion fits across the middle of the shoulder and chest. This fitting recommendation applies to all passengers.

As to believing your child needs to look out the window while riding in a car in order to be distracted, picture books – vestiges of the paper-bound past -- are a fine way to pass the time.

My children are grown now, but I remember the requirements for car seats were different back in the 90s when they were kids. They were both in booster seats at young ages. How about your kids? Are you keeping them in rear facing car seats longer? Let me know here.

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