The most dangerous daily activity for children is riding in a car. Being a passenger in a car is the number-one cause of death in children 4 years and older and the second most important cause in children younger than 4 years. These facts aren't meant to be alarming, but a reminder that we should have children riding in the safest way. The American Academy of Pediatrics continuously monitors this data and recently issued new car seat guidelines for younger children.
Instead of just keeping children facing backward until their second birthday, using the latest safety data, the AAP now advises keeping them facing backward in their car seats until the child no longer fits in that seat position.
When a child rides rear-facing, the head, neck, and spine are all supported by the hard shell of the car safety seat, allowing the car seat to absorb most of the crash forces, and protecting the most vulnerable parts of the body. When children ride forward-facing, their bodies are restrained by the harness straps, but their heads – which for toddlers are disproportionately large and heavy – are thrown forward, possibly resulting in spine and head injuries, according to the AAP.
Short rides are just as dangerous for children and adults as longer rides, so the commonly heard refrain, "She doesn't need a seatbelt, it's a short ride" is always wrong. Not to mention that unrestrained children can distract the driver and cause accidents.
Here are the five AAP rules of child safety in cars:
- Children should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible, up to the limits of their car safety seats. This will include virtually all children under age 2 and many children up to age 4.
- Once the children are turned around, they should remain in a forward-facing car safety seat up to that seat's weight and height limits. Most car seats can accommodate children up to 60 pounds or more.
- When children exceed the seat's limits, child passengers should ride in a belt-positioning booster seat until they can use a seat belt that fits correctly.
- Once they exceed the booster limits and are large enough to use the vehicle seat belts alone, they should always use both the lap and shoulder belts.
- All children under age 13 should be restrained in the rear seat of vehicles for optimal protection.