One of the country’s foremost child safety organizations announced this week that it has changed its tune when it comes to child car seats. Previously, the American Academy of Pediatrics deemed it safe to switch toddlers from rear-facing to forward-facing car seats at the age of 1, but the new policy suggests that toddlers should remain in the rear-facing seats until their second birthday. The policy statement added that toddlers in rear-facing seats are 75 percent less likely to be killed or injured in a major car accident.

“Our recommendations are meant to help parents move away from gospel-held notions that are based on a child’s age,” said Dr. Dennis Durbin, the study’s main author. “We want them to recognize that with each transition they make, from rear-facing to forward-facing, to booster seats, there is a decline in the safety of their child. That’s why we are urging parents to delay these transitions for as long as possible.”

For decades, say supporters of this change, parents have considered turning the car seat around as a marker of mental development, thereby rushing to switch to a forward-facing car seats too early. In reality, the arbitrary milestone puts young children at risk because a baby’s head is large compared to the rest of his body, meaning it could fly forward in the event of a serious car accident.

The New York Times reports on a family that had previously taken the advice to keep their children in rear-facing seats an extra year. During that year, the couple experienced a massive car accident, soaring across three lanes of traffic and landing upside down next to the freeway. To the surprise of emergency responders, the entire family was unscathed. “People thought we were crazy for keeping our 2-year-old rear-facing, but if she had been facing forward, she wouldn’t be alive today,” said the child’s father Ed Weissberg.

Photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik