Children should ride rear-facing to age 2, or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their seat. (The old policy from 2002 cited age 12 months and 20 pounds as a minimum for when to turn a seat around.)
Children should use a booster seat until they have reached 4 feet 9 inches tall and are between 8 and 12 years old.
Children should ride in the rear of a vehicle until they are 13 years old.
“A rear-facing child safety seat does a better job of supporting the head, neck and spine of infants and toddlers in a crash, because it distributes the force of the collision over the entire body,” said Dr. Dennis Durbin, lead author of the AAP's policy statement. “For larger children, a forward-facing seat with a harness is safer than a booster, and a belt-positioning booster seat provides better protection than a seat belt alone until the seat belt fits correctly.”
Carolyn Murray of West Milford, New Jersey, has already transitioned two of her three kids out of car seats. While Murray's 6-year-old son James still uses a booster, daughters, Samantha, 9, and Emily, 11, haven't had one for years.
Murray isn't planning on following the guidelines, saying that most of her driving is in town and not on highways, and she doesn't want the hassle of needing extra car seats when she drives her kids' friends.
Plus, she says she could never get her 11-year-old to comply: "She would fight it."
"I agree it's probably safer with short children, since seatbelts can cut into their neck. But there's no way she is going to sit in a booster seat. It's an image thing."
Emily says sitting in a booster seat simply isn't cool. "My friends would laugh."
The new rear-facing-until-2 guideline is under debate, too.
New Jersey mom Meghan Mackenzie says it would be hard to return to rear-facing seats for her sons Landon, 3, and Connor, 17 months. She switched both to front-facing after their first birthdays because it was so hard to get them in and out of the car, and because they didn't seem to be comfortable in the rear-facing position.
"I think it's unrealistic to change them back now. If it were an absolute law, I would do it," says Mackenzie. "But I have good car seats and I feel like they are safe facing forward."
Melissa Dixon of Bellevue, Nebraska, is glad the AAP has new guidelines.
Dixon's three daughters, ages 6, 5 and 12 months, have all had extended stints in the rear-facing position. Her middle child, Mara, was rear-facing until age 3 and her youngest, Naomi, will be too. Meanwhile, eldest daughter Amber is in a 5-point harness seat and will be in a booster seat until she's at least 4 feet 10 inches, says Dixon.
"I'm 4 feet 10 and I don't feel comfortable when I sit in the backseat because of the way the strap hits my neck." says Dixon. "Until [Amber] is at least my height, I will keep her in a booster."
Dixon doesn't understand why parents wouldn't follow the guidelines on booster seats, given that they are easy to handle and affordable. (Backless boosters are available for around $20.)
"I think it's a matter of safety first," Dixon says. "I'd rather my kid complain about sitting in a booster seat that have them get hurt in a car accident."
How do you feel about the new AAP guidelines on car seat safety? Will you keep your child rear-facing until age 2? Will you make your tweens ride in booster seats?