The complexities of car seat logistics

Since I’ve been writing about health care and family issues for so many years, my ears always perk up (figuratively speaking) when I get wind of a major new policy that I just know is going to get people talking.

I knew as soon as I read about the American Academy of Pediatrics’ new recommendations for child safety restraints that it was going to be Big News among parents of young children. The new guidelines, which were published in the April issue of the journal Pediatrics, advise parents to keep children in rear-facing car seats until the age of two–or even longer, if the children are on the small side for their age.

In the past, the AAP recommended that babies be at least 20 pounds and 12 months before parents turned their car seats around to face forward. So that’s what most parents went by. (The law here in my state of Tennessee goes by that guideline, in fact.) When my older son was a baby, we were living in California, where the law stipulates that children ride in safety seats until age six (and 60 pounds), per California Vehicle Code Sections 27360 and 27360.5. The law did not stipulate whether babies were to ride in a rear-facing seat until a particular age, but pediatricians strongly recommended that we go by the AAP’s 2002 policy (see above).

So when my older son turned one in 2007, we ceremoniously turned his car seat around on his birthday. He weighed about 23 pounds at that point, so we had just been waiting on his first birthday to finally roll around. He took his first forward-facing ride in the car to Anaheim to see the Angels play the Mariners at Angel Stadium.

In the subsequent years, I read more and more about experts advising parents to keep their babies in rear-facing seats beyond their first birthday, even if they had already passed the 20-pound mark. A friend of mine posted regular pleas on Facebook to ask parents to consider keeping their kids rear-facing. By that point, my son was two years old and huge, so it wasn’t really relevant to our situation anymore.

But when my second son was born, I started reconsidering the whole rear-facing-to-forward-facing issue. I started to think that maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to keep my younger son in a rear-facing seat for awhile longer. My younger son is smaller than my older son was, and I knew that it was possible that he wouldn’t even hit the 20-pound mark by his first birthday anyway. Plus, he has his big brother to entertain him in the back seat, so he’s never fussed around riding in the car.

By his first birthday, Andrew had passed the 20-pound mark, but I had already decided that we’d install the brand spanking new Britax Marathon seat in the rear-facing position. That is, if it would fit in the minivan and still give me enough leg room to drive. The seat fit. It’s a good thing that I’m not very tall, though. I can’t move the driver’s seat back at all.

And I have a feeling that the new recommendations are going to be a little problematic for parents who are blessed with more height than I am. A good friend of mine is concerned about the AAP’s new guidelines because she’s almost 5 feet, 10 inches tall. She has a six-month-old who is rapidly approaching the 20-pound mark and will soon outgrow his infant seat. She’s starting to fret because not only is she tall, but her husband’s tall, and they have a four-year-old who must continue to ride in a booster seat. They don’t know what they’re going to do when they have to put their baby in a larger convertible car seat in a rear-facing position. Currently, the infant bucket-style seat is rear-facing, but those seats take up a lot less room than the dreadnaughts that are the convertible seats. Once they install a convertible seat in whichever seat in the back, neither parent will be able to sit in the seat in front of it. It will push the forward seat too far forward.

Granted, it’s not like the AAP’s new guideline carries the weight of law. Legally, people like my friend will still be able to turn their children’s car seats around when they turn one and weigh at least 20 pounds. But the guidelines do carry the weight of influence (as they should). Parents usually want to do what has been determined to be the safest thing for their kids. My question is….what do those parents do if that’s logistically complicated, if not impossible?

For me, it worked out great. We installed the new convertible seat in the rear-facing position, and Andrew is as happy as a clam. He’ll stay in a rear-facing seat as long as necessary. But what if your car doesn’t have the space to do that? Do the car manufacturers need to step up and do something? If so, what, though? Do parents just need to buy bigger cars (as if that wouldn’t have major other drawbacks on several other fronts)?

Want to take a look at the details of the new car seat policy? Here’s the AAP’s updated policy on car seats and child safety restraints: HealthyChildren.org’s Car Seat Information for Families.

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About jenniferlarsonwrites

I'm a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee. I have a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland and a bachelor's degree in English from Rhodes College. I'm a born-and-bred Southerner who spent a few years in Southern California, a rabid baseball fan and a would-be grower of tomatoes. You can also visit me at LinkedIn or on Twitter at @JenniferLarson.
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