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Rear-facing child car seats are safe. Are they safe enough?

If you are a parent the most precious thing you carry in your family vehicle is your child. Children have not always been well protected by the typical safety restraint systems now standard in all vehicles.

Indeed, child safety seats haven't been around for all that long. According to the child passenger safety industry newsletter Safe Ride News, the first state law requiring seats was only passed in 1978. And it wasn't until 1985 that all 50 states had laws specific to child passenger safety on the books.

Over the course of time, researchers have determined that rear-facing child seats do a better job of keeping the very youngest children safe than forward-facing seats. As a result, many states have passed laws requiring their use. In Texas, guidelines call for the use of rear-facing seats for all infants and toddlers up to the age of 2, unless they outgrow weight or height limits set by a manufacturer.

And, as good as rear-facing seats are known to be, there is now research suggesting there is a need to make them even safer. According to a study by a forensic team in Pennsylvania, crash testing has shown that infants in rear-facing car seats in the back seat could find themselves flung head-first into the seat they are facing if the car they're in is rear-ended. Head injuries could be serious.

The issue appears to be that a lot of parents still don't know how to properly install the seats, despite efforts by manufacturers and regulators to come up with ways to reduce errors.

The authors of the new study emphasize that rear-facing seats are safe, but that they need to be made safer, perhaps by tethering the seats to car floors. They say one of their big concerns is that their tests showed that rear-facing seats return to their correct spots after crashes and physical injury might not be apparent. As a result, first responders might not think to examine and treat infants in seats for possible head trauma.

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