What you need to know about the new AAP car seat safety guidelines

December 19, 2018 Providence Health Team

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently released revised car seat safety guidelines, removing previously recommended age limits.

Kids are safest in the rear-facing position, until they outgrow the weight and height restrictions of their individual car seats.

There’s nothing as sweet as a sleeping young child who is safely secured into his or her cozy car seat. As a parent or parent-to-be, you probably researched car seat reviews for hours to find the perfect model; after all, this car seat was likely the first major health and safety-related purchase for your child.

You should know that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently changed their safety guidelines for child car seats. Read on to make sure you have the most up-to-date information, so that you can continue to keep your child safe and secure.

What is new?

“The biggest change is removal of the age limit. Until a few months ago, pediatricians were encouraging kids to sit rear-facing at least through the age of two,” explains Alexander Hamling, MD, a pediatrician at Pacific Medical Centers in Seattle, WA. “Now, the focus is on their weight and their height.”

The AAP now recommends that you keep your child in the rear-facing position until he or she reaches the upper weight and height limits of the individual car seat. Because those numbers can vary car seat to car seat, you need to be familiar with them for your car seat model.

Dr. Hamling explains why the rear-facing position is the safest for young children: “If you imagine that you’re traveling in your car, driving 60 mph, and you come to a sudden stop from an accident, your body is still trying to go 60 mph. Your seatbelt is preventing most of your torso from going that speed, but your head is still trying to go 60 mph. This is where you may sustain whiplash, neck injuries, nerve injuries, muscle injuries.”

“It’s the same thing with children who would be riding in the rear of your car,” he continues. “They don’t have the necessary muscle strength to safely stop their head from moving as quickly; or, they may be asleep in the car seat and not realize an accident just occurred. When they’re rear-facing, their head is already being pressed against the back of the seat, so the force continues into that same, cushioned area. They don’t have the same risk for whiplash or overextension of their neck.”

Recent research involving child restraint effectiveness show that car seats reduce the risk of injury by 71% to 82%, and reduce the risk of death by 28% when compared with children of similar ages using adult seat belts. 

Car seat safety tips:

  • Always use a child safety seat for your child when riding in a motor vehicle.
  • Use your child’s weight and height, not his age, to determine an appropriate car seat.
  • Be familiar with the upper weight and height restrictions for your child’s individual car seat.
  • Keep the child in a rear facing position as long as possible, based on his height and weight.
  • Make sure the car seat is properly installed. Most car seats have multiple methods for installation; determine the one best suited for your car. It shouldn’t be able to move more than an inch in any direction.
  • Be sure the straps aren’t too high, too loose, or too snug on the child. You should be able to place one finger between the strap and your child.
  • Practice installing and using your car seat. You don’t want the first use to be when you’re leaving the hospital with a newborn. (Use a teddy bear for practice!)
  • Bring your car seat to the airport when you travel by plane. Even if you decide not to use it while on board (i.e. for a lap infant), car seats can be checked free of charge and will be waiting for you when you arrive for use in your taxi, Uber, or car rental.

Car seat laws, state-to-state:

Alaska

California

Montana

Oregon

Washington

Looking for a pediatrician? Find one near you in our online directory, or visit:

WA: Pacific Medical Centers – Pediatrics; Providence Pediatrics; Providence Pediatric Associates – Spokane, Northpointe

OR: Providence Children’s Health

MT: Grant Creek Family Medicine

CA: Providence Pediatrics; St. Joseph Health Pediatrics, Northern California; St. Joseph & St. Jude Heritage Medical Group

AK: Children’s Hospital at Providence

Download the Circle by Providence app for answers and resources for common issues related to pregnancy and parenting.

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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