Update (1/11/15): Many of our readers pointed out that the stock image (right) shows a forward-facing child in a car seat without a chest clip. The image was chosen only to illustrate the forward-facing car seat mistake most parents make, so we apologize for any confusion. Car seats in the U.S. are not required to have a chest clip, but most car seats do have them. Always remember to follow the AAP car seat guidelines.
Installing a car seat properly is one of the trickiest things to master for new parents -- and at least 93 percent of parents make one huge car seat mistake after baby is born.
Even Prince William practiced how to install a car seat before being filmed live on television. Despite putting in practice time, some parents were still quick to point out the big car seat mistake he made: installing the car seat facing forward.
Well, turns out Prince William isn't the only one who makes the forward-facing car seat mistake. A new study reveals that three-quarters of parents (around 75%) actually turn their car seat forward-facing too soon. Researchers from the University of Michigan conducted two web-based national surveys about car seat positions, with parents who had kids under 4 years old. 495 parents participated in the first 2011 survey and 521 parents in the second 2013 survey. The 2011 survey was conducted after the American Academy of Pediatrics updated its car seat guidelines, and the 2013 survey was conducted before the next round of AAP updates.
Results for 2011 showed that 33 percent of parents turned the car seat from back- to forward-facing either before or at 12 months, with only 16 percent turning the car seat when a child was 2 years or older. Results for 2013 showed some improvement but not much -- 24 percent turned the car seat before or at 12 months versus 23 percent at 2 years or older.
"There are lots of reasons why parents are eager to change from the rear-facing to forward-facing seat: the perception their children are too large, the desire to see their children when driving, and a greater ease of removing their children from a forward facing seat," said Michelle L. Macy, lead author of the study, which was published in Academic Pediatrics
But determining when to change a car seat from back- to forward-facing shouldn't be based on a child's age but on height and weight. Even though there isn't one national car seat law, the current AAP car seat guidelines state a child should be in a back-facing car seat until he is at least 2 years old or until he has reached the maximum height and weight that the car seat allows. A child can then transition to a forward-facing booster seat with a harness only after reaching a certain age and height. Parents should also be aware of the new LATCH rules for older kids.
Being aware of the latest car seat guidelines is important in reducing automobile accidents, one of the main causes for the death of kids under 4.
Sherry Huang is a Features Editor for Parents.com who covers baby-related content. She loves collecting children's picture books and has an undeniable love for cookies of all kinds. Her spirit animal would be Beyoncé Pad Thai. Follow her on Twitter @sherendipitea
Image: Sleeping baby in a forward-facing car seat via Shutterstock