Before you buckle up your kids again, there are new rules regarding car seats from the American Academy of Pediatrics that you should know.
As of March 2011, the AAP recommends that children remain in rear-facing car seats until age 2, or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their seat.
In addition, children should remain in a booster seat until they are 4 feet, 9 inches tall and are between 8 and 12 years old.
More information, from an AAP news release:
"Parents often look forward to transitioning from one stage to the next, but these transitions should generally be delayed until they're necessary, when the child fully outgrows the limits for his or her current stage," said Dennis Durbin, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement and accompanying technical report, in a news release.
"A rear-facing child safety seat does a better job of supporting the head, neck and spine of infants and toddlers in a crash, because it distributes the force of the collision over the entire body," Dr. Durbin said. "For larger children, a forward-facing seat with a harness is safer than a booster, and a belt-positioning booster seat provides better protection than a seat belt alone until the seat belt fits correctly."
While the rate of deaths in motor vehicle crashes in children under age 16 has decreased substantially-dropping 45 percent between 1997 and 2009-it is still the leading cause of death for children ages 4 and older. Counting children and teens up to age 21, there are more than 5,000 deaths each year. Fatalities are just the tip of the iceberg; for every fatality, roughly 18 children are hospitalized and more than 400 are injured seriously enough to require medical treatment.
New research has found children are safer in rear-facing car seats. A 2007 study in the journal Injury Prevention showed that children under age 2 are 75 percent less likely to die or be severely injured in a crash if they are riding rear-facing.
"The 'age 2' recommendation is not a deadline, but rather a guideline to help parents decide when to make the transition," Dr. Durbin said. "Smaller children will benefit from remaining rear-facing longer, while other children may reach the maximum height or weight before 2 years of age."
Children should transition from a rear-facing seat to a forward-facing seat with a harness, until they reach the maximum weight or height for that seat. Then a booster will make sure the vehicle's lap-and-shoulder belt fit properly. The shoulder belt should lie across the middle of the chest and shoulder, not near the neck or face. The lap belt should fit low and snug on the hips and upper thighs, not across the belly. Most children will need a booster seat until they have reached 4 feet 9 inches tall and are between 8 and 12 years old.
Children should ride in the rear of a vehicle until they are 13 years old.
Get a car seat guide from the AAP here.