My 12-year-old really wants to ride in the front seat of my car. “No, not yet,” I say, mainly because she’s small for her age. The force of an exploding front air bag could potentially harm her as much or more than a fender bender. In fact, she’s just recently passed the minimum height and weight requirements for booster seats (4 feet, 9 inches and 85 pounds) though I let her forgo the booster several months ago. That’s much to the chagrin of U.S. pediatric doctors, who recently released new safety guidelines regarding kids and car seats.
Yes, the car seat battles are about to intensify.
The American Academy of Pediatrics now suggests kids stay in a seat with a five-point harness buckle for as long as possible, until the child maxes out size-wise. For some of these car seats, the maximum weight is 85 pounds. I don’t think I weighed that much until I was almost 15. My 9-year-old son doesn’t weigh that much yet, and when I told him that smart doctors say he should be back in a “toddler” seat, he laughed. In truth, he’s no longer in a booster even — because he’s met the height requirement. And because, “It’s not cool, mom.”
My girl hated her car seat when she was a baby and toddler. She screamed every time we strapped her in. It got so I dreaded driving a mile to the grocery store. And longer trips were pure hell — until she wore herself out crying and fell asleep. Though often she’d vomit first, which necessitated a pit stop and clean up before the crying cycle started again. We turned her from her rear-facing baby seat to a toddler seat early on to try to improve the situation. While it helped (she vomited less often), she still hated the restrictive straps.
A second new recommendation from the AAP includes keeping babies in their rear-facing seats until they are at least 2 years old or meet the height and weight limits for the seat. This would have been tough on my girl — particularly as she didn’t hit 20 pounds, the typical weight limit, until she was almost 3.
Perhaps new parents with new technologies, such as tiny video screens, have a chance of keeping their babies facing backwards and/or in harness car seats for longer than I.
The AAP also suggests we keep kids in the back seat until they’re at least 13. I think I can follow this one, as my girl will turn 13 in five months and, I hope, will be hitting her pre-adolescent growth spurt by then.
Motor vehicle injuries are the leading cause of death among children in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC also notes these injuries can be halved by making sure kids are in age and size appropriate car and booster seats. So, obviously, if it’s safer for our kids, we should try to follow the new recommendations, whether our kids are happy or not.
Although driving around with a screaming kid in the back seat isn’t safe either. For me, that’s more distracting than almost anything — and yes, I twice bumped a car in front of me while craning to check on my distraught girl in her car seat. Which shut her up, though she’s never let me forget either occasion. And she was 4 at the time.
I realize that my mommy taxi runs are the most dangerous part of our day, yet I’m not going back to car or booster seats. One, I’ve given them away. Secondly, there’s often no going back with kids.
Instead, I’m going to try to keep my two in the back seat for as long as possible, strapped in with regular old seat belts, and hope for clear open roads and focused drivers (including myself). And be happy I no longer have a screaming babe back there.