Keeping children safe is always the goal of parents. So when car seats come into question as we are speeding down the road at 25, 45, and even 75 miles per hour, it’s important to make sure they’re properly restrained. Because let’s be honest, we’re driving faster and more distracted than any other generation before us.
Children are still developing well past their first birthdays; there is no denying that. Their bones are not hardened and vertebrae aren’t fused yet.
This is honestly probably why they get the nickname “bouncing babies”.
… And This is why it is far more important to protect our children in the car. They are still developing and this leaves their spinal cords vulnerable, especially in car accidents. And while my husband usually trusts my decisions, sometimes I have to give him the plain hard facts. So I dug deep into research on how kids spines grow and mature, but also the stresses of car accidents on a child’s spine.
So here are the fast facts…
Let’s first say that for those unfamiliar, the speed in the video is only approximately 30mph. Most city streets are around that speed and most highways are double that speed!
As babies, we are born with 300 bones, but have 206 as adults.
On average, a child is 4.5 when their vertebrae start fusing. Sometimes it’s even as late as six and usually not before age 3.
Because the spinal cord is so vulnerable is why extended rear facing is so important. The AAP even recommends that parents rear-face their children until at least two years of age ( preferably four), that they should be in a car seat or booster until age 8, and in the back of a car until at least 13.
Only preliminary hardening of the spine begins happening at age one. Children do not have adult-like spines, s-shaped (vs. C-shaped) spines, fused pelvic bones, and overall mature bone structures until about age 8 and bones do not fully harden until age 25. Vertebral fusion is the most important, and happens usually at about 3-4 which is why we extend RF. After that, we will use a booster because, as stated above, our kids are still growing and maturing!
More links to research about kids’ skeletal development in association with car seat safety:
- Studies on Bone growth and development WITH DIAGRAMS used for car safety recommendations
- Many kids’ bones don’t fuse until the 7th year
- A case of internal decapitation from no neck and head support in a car crash
Please keep your babies safe and always research what’s safest!
This was first published November 2013 and Updated 2018. We now have 3 kids and we keep them rear facing until their 4th birthday. We also like using Clek car seats as they have a high weight rating for both rear and forward facing. Our oldest, born in 2012, is still in a 5 point harness and will be until she is 8 at which point she will be moved to a high back booster.
On how to keep your child safe in their car seat during the winter, please read more:
Did you know kids are not safe wearing big puffy coats under their car seat straps? Be prepared for cold weather with these 6 great, and easy ideas to stay car seat safe in the winter.
Kara is an author, wife, and mother of 3 children living in Boston, MA. She has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development and is passionate about connecting with and even helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!