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Forward Facing

My child has outgrown the rear facing car seat. How long should she ride forward facing? After a child has outgrown the rear facing weight limit of his or her convertible seat, which is usually 30-45 pounds depending on the seat, the child must forward face.

We like to see children riding harnessed until between 5 and 6 years of age. At this age, there are some developmental things that happen in the pelvis which makes using a seatbelt much safer. In adults, the seat belt rides on part of the hip, called the iliac crest. It holds the belt out of the soft tissues of the stomach and prevents the belt from hurting internal organs in a crash. (seat belt syndrome) In order to be born and make it thru the birth canal, children have very narrow hips. This crest doesn’t begin to flare or widen until about age 5-6. When it does, it makes boosters safer to use. Before then, we would like to see kids stay harnessed. The American Academy of Pediatrics, AAP now recommends children use a harnessed seat until at least 4 years of age, and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration NHTSA recommends children ages 4-7 ride in a harnessed seat until they outgrow it (according to guidelines a child less than 4 should always be in a harnessed seat).

A 5 pt harnesses spread crash forces over a larger area of the body and provide 5 pts of protection/distribution compared with the 3 points of a lap/shoulder belt. A properly adjusted harness is more likely to keep the child contained in the seat rather than allowing the child to be ejected, especially in a side impact or rollover. Sleeping may also be easier in a 5 pt harness as the child does not have to maintain proper position while asleep - the harness keeps the child in position. The child should forward face until he or she outgrows the seat.

A forward facing seat is outgrown when (whichever of the following items happens first):
  • The forward facing weight limit is met (make sure you're looking at the harnessed limit –some seats have multiple limits)
  • The tips of the child's ears pass the top of the shell
  • The child's shoulders pass the top slot

Outgrowing a forward facing seat doesn't always mean a child is ready for a booster. Children frequently outgrow their seats by height before they outgrow them by weight. Children who outgrow their harnessed seats, but who aren’t ready for a booster yet, may need a high weight harnessed seat. These seats harness from 50-85 lbs, depending on the model and have higher harness slots. There are a number of them on the market today, and that number seems to increase yearly.

Crash test, forward facing seat vs booster

Other videos links on forward facing:
These three are sad, but very demonstrative about the need to keep children harnessed as long as possible.

Other links:
car seat safety

Got to Stage 3
VT Department of Health - Gov Highway Safety Program

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