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Car Seat Safety: When Should my Child Face Forward? Rear-Facing is Safest Way to Travel

Sharon Evans, trauma injury prevention coordinator at Cook Children’s, shares important information with parents and caregivers to keep children safe in their vehicle.

By Eline deBruijn Wiggins

It’s a big milestone for parents of young children to turn their car seats to face forward. Some may wonder, when is the appropriate time to do so? Is it when the child wants to look out the window? Is it when the parent wants to see the child? This milestone should be delayed for as long as possible because safety is the top priority. Keep your child rear-facing to help prevent severe injuries during a crash.

“Keep them rear-facing until they reach the maximum weight and height of the car seat,” said Sharon Evans, trauma injury prevention coordinator at Cook Children’s. “Rear-facing is the safest way they’ll ever travel.”

Car crashes are a leading cause of injury and death in children ages 1 to 13. Every year children are rushed to the emergency room to be treated for car-related injuries.  Car seats

Check your car seat’s manual -- the most important piece of information will be determining the maximum weight and height limit of their rear-facing car seat. Most car seats will go to 40 pounds rear-facing so your child could be 3 or 4 years old before you turn them around.

Keeping your child rear-facing also protects their spinal cord in the event of a car crash. When they’re rear-facing during a crash, the impact will cause the car seat to dip, protecting their spine and neck.

“You’re keeping their head, neck and spine all in alignment,” Evans said. “The majority of the crash forces are taken on the back of the car seat and less of the crash forces are not transferred to the child.”

Parents may worry that their child’s feet are touching the vehicle seat when the car seat is rear-facing. Car seats 2

“You would think that there is a chance that they would be more prone to having a broken leg, but what we found through research and the American Academy of Pediatrics says that there is no increased risk,” Evans said.

If a child is facing forward during a crash, that is a lot of force to put on a child’s spine and neck.

“If you have that sudden stop, the pressure and force put on their neck can cause severe spinal cord injuries,” Evans said. “During that stop, their head and their arms are all going to come forward and that force can cause broken arms and legs.”

Check the harness straps are at or just below their shoulders and the retainer clip always needs to be at the armpit level, Evans said. Make sure the straps are snug with the pinch test.

After outgrowing a rear-facing car seat, children will move to a forward-facing car seat until at least age 5 based on the weight and height limit for the car seat.

The next seat is a booster seat, which is used until the seat belt fits properly, usually around ages 9 to 12, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. car seat


Parents and caregivers can bring their vehicle and car seat for a free car seat check with the Cook Children’s Center for Community Health at 682-885-2634 or go online to

Certified technicians will inspect your car seat free of charge and show you how to correctly install and use it. Some locations now offer virtual inspections.Top of Form

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration maintains a directory of many inspection stations.

Always refer to your specific car seat manufacturer’s instructions (check height and weight limits) and read the vehicle owner’s manual on how to install the car seat using the seat belt or lower anchors and a tether, if available.

More information & resources:

Car Seat Safety - Center for Community Health

We offer FREE car seat checks and assistance to families who may need a car seat.

Please click the link here or call 682-885-2634 to book your appointment. Those without appointments will be seen on a first come/first serve basis. You MUST have your child with you unless you are an expectant parent.