Ann Arbor, Michigan – Many parents are turning their children’s car seats to face forward when the children are still too young, according to a new report.

The American Academy of Pediatrics updated its guidelines for child passenger safety in April 2011, recommending that children stay in rear-facing seats until they are two years old. The new report from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital shows that many parents turn the seat to forward-facing before the child’s second birthday.

The study found that 73 per cent of parents switched their children from rear- to forward-facing car seats before the children were two, and 30 per cent did so before the children were a year old.

“Research has shown that riding in a rear-facing car seat is up to five times safer for toddlers than riding in a forward-facing car seat,” said Dr. Michelle Macy, a clinical lecturer of emergency medicine. “Parents want to keep their children safe, but they may not be aware of the safety benefits of keeping their child rear-facing beyond the child’s first birthday.”

Dr. Macy said that rear-facing seats can prevent serious injury in front-end collisions. “When a child is sitting in a rear-facing car seat, the stopping forces are spread out over their entire back,” she said. “The back of the car seat is a cushion for the child. However, in the forward-facing position, all of the crash forces are focused on the points of the body that come into contact with the car seat straps. The child’s head and limbs keep moving forward, pulling against the seat.”

Car seat instructions often say that the seat can be used forward-facing when the child is 20 pounds, but it does not mean it should be if the child is still under the height and weight limits to continue riding rear-facing. If a child outgrows a rear-facing infant carrier-style seat before his or her first birthday, the next step is to get a larger convertible seat that can be used in both positions.

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