Rear-facing safety seats best until age two: US panel

US pediatricians on Monday recommended that parents keep their children in rear-facing safety seats until the age of two - twice as long as is the current practice.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, in a new policy published in the April issue of Pediatrics, said the rear-facing seats provide better protection for toddlers and should be used to the age of two or until children reach the maximum height and weight for their seat.

It also advises that most children will need to ride in a belt-positioning booster seat until they have reached 1.44 meters (4 feet 9 inches) tall and are between eight and 12 years of age.

The previous policy implemented in 2002 advised the use of rear-facing seats up to the limits of the car seat, but it also cited age 12 months and 20 pounds (nine kilos) as a minimum.

As a result, many parents turned the seat to face the front of the car when their child celebrated his or her first birthday.

"Parents often look forward to transitioning from one stage to the next, but these transitions should generally be delayed until they're necessary, when the child fully outgrows the limits for his or her current stage," said Dennis Durbin, lead author of the policy statement and accompanying technical report.

"A rear-facing child safety seat does a better job of supporting the head, neck and spine of infants and toddlers in a crash, because it distributes the force of the collision over the entire body.

"For larger children, a forward-facing seat with a harness is safer than a booster, and a belt-positioning booster seat provides better protection than a seat belt alone until the seat belt fits correctly."

The group said that while the rate of deaths in motor vehicle crashes in children under age 16 has decreased 45 percent between 1997 and 2009, it is still the leading cause of death for children ages four and older in the United States.

A 2007 study in the journal Injury Prevention showed that children under age two are 75 percent less likely to die or be severely injured in a crash if they are riding rear-facing.

"The 'age 2' recommendation is not a deadline, but rather a guideline to help parents decide when to make the transition," Durbin said.

"Smaller children will benefit from remaining rear-facing longer, while other children may reach the maximum height or weight before two years of age."

The group recommends that children ride in the rear passenger seat of a vehicle until they are 13 years old.

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