New Rear-Facing Car Seat Laws: 3 Things You Need to Know NOW

Be sure to consider best practices when buying car seats.

Don’t just follow state laws, but consider best practice recommendations.

The first birthday is a delightful and much anticipated milestone that may have you thinking about various changes in your life and routines. Your little one is likely walking, eating more solid food, and switching from breast milk to regular milk.

Additionally, you might be thinking it’s time to buy a new car seat. But have you considered car seat safety and current laws in your state?

Did you know car seat laws differ quite a bit from the best practice recommendations of leading safety experts? Don't worry, we're breaking down everything you need to know about the new rear-facing car seat laws. 

What You Need to Know About the New Rear-Facing Car Seat Laws

Rear-Facing Car Seat State Laws Vary Widely

South Carolina recently became only the 5th state (joining California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma) to require that children under the age of two be in a rear-facing car seat. Oregon is considering a change as well, but all other states require a child to be rear-facing until age one and less than 20 pounds.

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It seems in most states the laws are either too vague or too detailed, not always allowing for best practices. For example, Colorado requires that children ages 1 to 3 and weighing 20 to 40 pounds be in a child safety seat. Kids age 4 to 7 are required to be in a booster seat and, if they are 8 or older, they should be in a seat belt. Arkansas, conversely, simply states that a child restraint is required when they are under 5 years of age and under 60 pounds.

Rear-Facing Car Seat Best Practice Recommendations

Although state laws may be lagging behind, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration have long recommended that children ride in a rear-facing car seat until at least age two, and preferably until the child reaches the height and weight requirement for the car seat set by the manufacturer.

Rear-Facing Car Seat Studies

Studies show that children are significantly safer in rear-facing car seats. Using data from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, researchers stated that, “a rear-facing car seat distributes crash force over the entire body rather than focusing them only at belt contact points.” A young child’s large head in relation to a smaller neck is not supported enough by the still developing neck muscles.  Around age four, the head and neck are more proportional and the neck muscles are much stronger.

Despite what the law in your state declares, prudence says you should follow best practice recommendations and keep your child rear-facing for as long as possible. Car Seats for the Littles advises “children to ride rear facing until age 3-4, forward facing with a 5 point harness until age 5-6, in a booster until age 10-12, and in the back seat until age 13.”

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When researching new car seats, not only should you consider your state laws and best practice advice, but it also beneficial to look for a convertible car seat with the highest rear-facing weight and height requirements that you can find.

One of our top recommended rear-facing car seats that complies with the latest car seat laws is the Diono Rainier Convertible Car Seat. We also recommend the Graco Smart Seat.

Annie Wiesman

Annie Wiesman

Annie Wiesman is the co-author of “Education Begins at Birth: A Parent’s Guide to Preparing Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers for Kindergarten.” She is a former kindergarten teacher turned stay-at-home mom who enjoys traveling, hiking in the mountains, and creating memories together with her husband and little girl.

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