Carseat Safety, Part 3

If you have a young child, watch this video.  No really, watch it.  (It also has a great song to go along with it, if that helps!) 

  The rule is that the minimum requirements for a child to face foward in a carseat is that they be at least 20 lbs. AND 1 year-old.  Some 1 year-olds aren’t 20 lbs. yet–keep them rear-facing.  Some 20 pounders aren’t 1–keep them rear-facing.  Evelyne is 20 lbs. AND 1, but she’s still rear-facing….WHY?

  When your child is in a rear-facing carseat and you get in a frontal crash (72% of accidents, by far the most common and severe), the force of the crash is spread across the child’s entire body, and the seat absorbs most of the impact.  The force is spread throughout the back and head, and this protects the head from snapping backward from the body.  When your child is foward-facing, his body absorbs the impact.  The foward-facing child’s head and legs aren’t restrained, and in a serious frontal crash, they are thrown foward like a rag doll.

The below is from the Kyle David Miller Foundation.

“The anatomy of a young child is very different to that of a developed adult. This puts them more at risk for certain serious injuries. The head on a child is relatively large and very heavy in relation to the body. The head constitutes approximately twenty five per cent of the child’s weight. For a developed adult, the head constitutes approximately six percent of their weight.

When the heavy head of the forward-facing child is thrust forward in an accident, this puts an enormous amount of stress on the child’s neck, which is trying to hold back the head. The heavy weight of the child’s head can stretch the spinal cord. “According to documented research, autopsy specimens of infant spines and ligaments allow for spinal column elongation of up to two inches, but the spinal cord ruptures if stretched more than 1/4 inch. Real-world experience has shown that a young child’s skull can be literally ripped from her spine by the force of a crash.” (source: CPSTE ). If the spinal cord stretches too far in an accident this can cause it to tear, thus resulting in paralysis or death of the child. This is often described as “internal decapitation”.

Even babies who ‘appear’ to have strong neck muscles and good head control are susceptible to these risks.

Rear-facing car seats may not work as effectively in a rear impact but frontal, frontal offset and side impacts are not only more common, but account for the most percentage of fatalities. As discussed above, rear impacts account for a very small percentage of fatalities in accidents in comparison to frontal, frontal offset and side impacts.

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Young children have immature cervical vertebrae that are not strong enough to protect the spinal cord adequately in an accident when forward-facing in a frontal crash. The vertebrae are still in pieces joined by cartilage. These pieces are soft and have not yet ossified into a complete circle of bone which will enclose and protect the spinal cord.

Because the vertebrae are still in pieces (joined only by cartilage), a child that is forward-facing faces a heightened risk of damage to the spinal cord when their head and neck pull forward and back in a frontal crash.

Small children also have poorly developed, fragile, flexible neck muscles, loose ligaments to allow for growth, small rib cages, undeveloped abdominal muscles, soft spinal columns and unprotected relatively larger abdominal organs.

The vertebrae do not completely ossify until ages 3-6 years old. This is why rear-facing for as long as possible is safest, because it gives more support and protection to the incomplete vertebrae and therefore the spinal cord……

Children in Sweden ride rear facing until they are three to five years old or as much as 25kg (55lbs), lowering traffic death and injury rates in Sweden considerably. It is uncommon to turn a child to forward-facing before these ages. “From 1992 through June 1997, only 9 children properly restrained rear-facing died in motor vehicle crashes in Sweden, and all of these involved catastrophic crashes with severe intrusion and few other survivors.” (source: CPSAFETY).”

  After reading that, I’m convinced that I will do everything I can to keep Evelyne rear-facing as long as possible.  A common misconception is that their legs are in danger of being broken if they’re bent-up againt the seat.  There are no documented cases of a child’s legs being broken, yet many children’s necks are broken, resulting in death, by being turned foward-facing too soon.  Ev is starting to have to bend her legs a little bit, and she doesn’t even notice or care!  She doesn’t know otherwise.

 If you are planning to rear-face your child beyond the typical one-year/20 lbs. mark, make sure when you’re shopping for convertible carseats that you pay attention to the rear-facing weight limits of the seat.  The highest I know of go up to 35 pounds with 17-inch slots for the shoulder straps. 

 We all make our choies and try to do what’s best for our children.  I hope this information will help you make a more informed choice.

*Again, most of my information comes from www.car-safety.org.  What I’ve given is by no means a comprehensive explanation of the benefits of rear-facing, so I encourage you to visit this site and learn more about the safety benefits. 

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