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Kids Should Stay In Car Seats Longer, Doctors Say

By Stephanie Lucero, CBS 11 News
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A police officer adjusts the straps on a child safety seat.   (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

A police officer adjusts the straps on a child safety seat. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

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CHICAGO (CBS 11 NEWS) – New guidelines released today urge parents to keep their children in rear-facing seats until at least the age of 2.

That’s the advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The doctors group and the federal agency issued separate but consistent new recommendations Monday.

Some parents don’t agree with the new recommendations.

Dr. Benjamin Hoffman, one of the authors of the new policy, says many parents focus on progress and milestones.  Turning children around to sit forward-facing at 1 is the minimum recommended age.  But Hoffman says some children can stay rear facing until they are “3 or 4” depending on the weight and height limitations of the seat.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” says Sabrina Nyagami, whose 14-month-old son Jasean weighs 24 pounds.  “He’s too big to be facing backward,” she says.

Melissa Morton, a nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas and a Certified Car Safety Technician, says she has been teaching the new guidelines to parents for more than a year.  “The longer you can keep a child rear-facing, the better they’re protected as far as their head, their neck and their spinal cord,” says Morton.  She urges parents to read the warning labels on car seats, which provide information about maximum weight and height requirements.

“Once you turn a child forward-facing, they have such a big head that weighs a lot more and can have very bad whiplash effects to their neck,” Morton said. The whiplash “can actually break their neck very easily.”

“The biggest complaint that people have is their legs are very scrunched,” she adds.  “But it’s so much easier to fix a broken leg if you were in a crash than to try to fix someone who had a broken neck.”

Advocates for child safety seats say many children will try to persuade their parents to allow them not to use booster seats, but the A.A.P. says most children will need a booster seat until they have reached four feet nine inches tall and are between 8 and 12 years old.

Morton points out that virtually all cars are designed for adult men’s bodies.

Hoffman says many parents have misinterpreted the guidelines and move their children to booster seats too early.  He says the five-point harnesses in a car safety seat provide better protection upon impact.  “It minimizes the risk of injury,” says Hoffman.

 

(Copyright 2011 by CBS Local Media.  All Rights Reserved.  The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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