When we install a car seat rear-facing, it’s reducing the risk of injury from the most common and the most severe types of crashes: front-end collisions.
Let’s talk about what happens in a front-end crash.
The front-end of the car lowers;
The back-end raises up;
The speed is decelerated abruptly;
But due to momentum, everything in the car continues to travel towards the point-of-impact. (including anything loose in the car like the stroller and big dog in the back)
When we have the child rear-facing and the car seat is properly installed using either the seat belt or latch attachments, the car seat will pivot on that axis (the seat belt or latch). When the car seat pivots, its allows the child to ‘ride out’ the crash. The seat will ease the child down at a slower rate, dispersing the energy from the crash across the child’s entire back and in the car seat. This action and positioning keeps the spine in line reducing their risk for spinal cord injury.
The physics involved in this are the same physics that are involved in catching a raw egg. If you think about how you catch a raw egg, you don’t catch it like a line-drive baseball. You catch it and follow it’s trajectory slowing it down at a safer rate as to not crack the shell. You’re dispersing the energy from the impact in your hands and across the shell. The same way a rear-facing car seat works.
Now, let’s apply that knowledge for not only babies, but toddlers as well. Once we turn the children forward-facing this puts them at a greater risk for spinal cord injury because of their body design. They have large heads and their muscles and bones are not as well developed as an older child or adult. The bone structure (the skull, encasing the big heavy brain, and the spinal column) can stretch farther than the spinal cord, when their head slings forward in a crash. If we keep them rear-facing longer, it will give their bodies a chance to grow, develop and mature where they will be better apt to handle a front-end collision.
The fact-of-the-matter is that if we could all ride rear-facing in a five-point harness, we’d be safer, although that would make it tough to drive.
To find a car seat inspection event, please check one of the following resources.
In Washington State: http://www.800bucklup.org
Outside Washington State: http://www.seatcheck.org/
For more information on car seats: