New federal guidelines on child passenger safety advise parents to keep their kids in rear-facing car seats for as long as possible, to keep them as safe as possible in a vehicle accident.
The new National Highway Traffic Safety Administration guidelines come on the heels of a recent American Academy of Pediatrics study, which looked at safety data on car accidents involving young children, and concluded that parents should keep kids in rear-facing seats until they're at least two years old or have clearly outgrown the seat. In short, parents shouldn't treat their kids' graduation to a forward-facing seat as an age-based milestone. As the NHTSA puts it, "there is no need to hurry to transition a child to the next restraint type."
- Birth to 12 Months: Always keep your child in a rear-facing car seat.
- 1 Year to 3 Years: Keep your child in a rear-facing seat for as long as possible. New studies show that a rear-facing seat is the best option for keeping your child safe in a car accident.
- 4 Years to 7 Years: Your child should be kept in a forward-facing car seat equipped with a harness, until they've outgrown the seat.
- 8 Years to 12 Years: Use a booster seat until your child is big enough to use a seat belt properly.
The new child safety seat recommendations are largely based on a combination of two factors that are unique to a young child's physical development: disproportionately large heads, and bones and musculature that may not be up to the task of providing adequate support for the head in an accident.
For more help understanding and complying with child restraint laws, check out and this Child Safety Portal from the NHTSA and this Chart of State-by-State Child Passenger Safety Laws.