Rear-facing is the safest way your child can ride. In a crash, a rear-facing car seat will support the child's head, neck and spine, preventing injury. In contrast, if the child is forward-facing, the child's upper body is restrained by the car seat's harness, but the energy of the crash is transfered to the child's head and neck, causing whiplash. In an adult, whiplash is merely painful, but in a child, it can be deadly. As we know, a child's head is much larger in proportion to the body than an adult's, and the child's vertebrae are still immature (the vertebrae do not become fully ossified--or hardened--until between 4 and six years of age). Any amount of stretching of the spinal cord can be catastrophic for a young child--it can cause paralysis or death.
Here are some visuals on crash testing:
Here is a forward-facing child restraint:
Here is the story of Joel
Visit Joel's website for more information
Still have doubts? Let's visit some frequently asked questions...
"But where do their legs go? Aren't they uncomfortable all squished up like that? Wouldn't their legs get broken in a crash?"
As parents, we all worry about our children's comfort. However, watch a young child as they sit on the floor. Where are their legs? Usually they are folded underneath, or out to the side, or "criss-cross applesauce". Same is true in the car--as the child grows, so do their legs, and they either cross them in the seat, prop them up against the seat back, fold them or swing them over the side of the seat.
As far as leg injuries go, they are very rare with a rear-facing child--there are actually more reports of injuries to forward-facing kids' legs!
This is a good question. However, statistically rear-end or rear-offset crashes are not nearly as common as frontal or frontal-offset impacts. Here's a handy little picture that shows the exact numbers:
In addition to being less common than frontal-impact crashes, rear-impact crashes are usually at much lower rates of speed--generally, the rear-ended car is stopped or moving at a slow rate of speed, and the driver of the impacting car is usually braking.
"I never had a car seat when I was a kid, and I turned out okay!"
This is a very common argument; however, it's a flawed one. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the fatality rate for children under the age of 13 has declined from 79.5 per million in 1975 to 19.8 per million in 2009.
Make sure to check out these sites for more information about extended rear facing!