For any parent, driving with a child in a vehicle can be stressful. This is often particularly true when a child is very young and a parent may become distracted attempting to soothe a crying baby or attend to his or her needs. Tending to a baby in the backseat is even more challenging these days as, per a 2011 recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics, it’s been established that children younger than 24 months of age are safest when their car seats are rear-facing.

Young children’s spines, necks and heads are not fully developed and therefore more prone to suffer serious damage and injury if a child is involved in a car accident. A recent study which was published in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention examined how rear-facing car seats that use Lower Anchors and Tether for Children (LATCH) and seat belt restraint systems fared in crash tests.

The results of the study revealed some alarming safety deficiencies that put children in rear-facing car seats at greater risk of suffering head and spinal injuries. In crash tests, when a rear-end accident was simulated with an infant dummy, the rear-facing car seats violently thrust forward and then rebound. While both the LATCH and seat belt systems prevented car seats from becoming loose and moving about the vehicles, researchers noted safety deficiencies.

With both LATCH and seat belt restraint systems, upon rebounding from an initial impact, the dummies in rear-facing car seats often thrust forward and hit their heads on the front of the back seat to which the car seat was attached. Additionally, with the LATCH system, researchers observed that the entire back portion of the car seat frequently lifted off of the seat thereby causing the heads of the dummies to thrust forward.

Spine, neck and head injuries in young children may go unnoticed and undiagnosed thereby putting a child at an increased risk of suffering serious and permanent damage. While the researchers who conducted the study agree that rear-facing car seats are the safest place for children under the age of 24 months to be while in a moving vehicle, they advocate that improvements must be made to make the seats safer and more stable.

Source: The Washington Post, “Study of rear-end crashes finds head injuries from rear-facing child seats,” Katherine Shaver, Nov. 1, 2015