While this is the law, it is outdated. The recommendation is now that you rear-face your child as long as your child's car seat allows it, or at least until 2-years-old. There are even movements in some states toward changing the laws to 2-years-old.
I cannot tell you how many times I have been called a "rear-facing nazi" for this. People always say, "It's just a recommendation." Well, yes it is just a recommendation, but it is a recommendation for a reason!
We need to remember that cars have really not even been around for a century, and car seats are a relatively new thing. When our parents were kids, car seats were non-existent. When we were kids the movement towards using car seats really began, and since then, more and more tests have been done on how they can be most efficient and safe.
The more that is learned about car seats, the more the recommendations change.
Unfortunately, many doctors are not up to date on the recommendations. I was told I could turn Grace around at one (she was already over 20 lbs) by her pediatrician. So, (hangs head in shame), I did it. I got pregnant with Brentley about a month after she turned one, and I started researching car seat safety then. It was actually an accident that I started and just kept reading more and more. It never occurred to me before that her doctors could be wrong. We eventually turned her back to rear-facing. I'm not sure what she weighs now, but if she is under 40 lbs, then we will be rear-facing her again in the SUV once we get it (next month!!). Her car seat is too tall to fit rear-facing in my car. I hate having her forward-facing even now that she is almost three :(
Anyway, the reason that it is recommended to rear-face until at least two is because it has been found that children's necks muscles and bones are not yet strong enough to withstand the force of a crash. Thus, they can end up with a broken neck or even internal decapitation.
Now, I am going to address the common reasons I see that people don't rear-face their children even when they know the risks...
"My child doesn't want to watch the world pass him by."
- For starters, if you have never forward-faced your child, then he or she is not going to know the difference. If this is your excuse for not turning your child back to rear-facing, then I guess when your child doesn't want to go to sleep you should just let him stay up all night. Or when he doesn't want to stop running after the ball when you tell him to that you should just let him run out into the street. You are the parent. Sometimes, you have to do things in the interest of your child's safety that your child doesn't want or like. That just comes with being a parent.
"My child can't see as much."
- The child can still see out of the side windows, and in my car, the kids can see more out of the rear-window than they can the windshield. Not to mention that how much they can see is not going to protect them in a crash.
"My child is too tall."/"It's uncomfortable for my child."
- Children are extremely flexible. Most actually prefer to sit "Indian style" or with their legs up rather than having their legs hang down. If children can fall asleep, then they are comfortable.
"My child's legs will break in a crash."
- I literally cannot find a documented case of a child's leg being broken in a crash due to the fact that the child was rear-facing. I have heard stories, but nothing proven. However, there are way too many documented cases of a child's neck being broken or a child being internally decapitated in a crash due to the fact that their muscles and bones were not yet strong enough to be forward-facing :( Now, would you rather your child have a broken leg(s), or be paralyzed/dead? I think that question answers itself.
"I can't properly install the seat."
- Now, I realize that I have said Grace can't rear-facing because her seat doesn't fit. In my case, this is not an excuse. Chris is 6'2. He has to have the driver's seat pushed all the way back to fit in our tiny car. This means that Grace's seat is too tall to fit at the right angle rear-facing. I realize that this is not always an excuse, but sometimes it is. If the seat is not too tall to fit, then have someone at the health department or fire department install it for you.
"Forward-facing in a front end collision is the same thing as rear-facing in a rear-end collision."
- Simply put... No, it's not. I'm going to copy and paste some info on this...
- According to Crashtest.Com, frontal and frontal offset crashes combine for about 72% of severe crashes. Side impacts are about 24%. Rear and rear offset crashes only account for about 4%. The NHTSA FARS database shows similar numbers. The odds of being in a frontal crash with a fatality or very serious injury are many times greater than being in a severe rear-end crash. Rear-enders are more common at lower speeds, though most injuries in these crashes are not as severe - typically, whiplash injuries to adults, especially passengers lacking proper head restraint.
- Vehicle speed is very important to the energy in a crash, even more important than vehicle weight. Frontal and frontal offset crashes are the most severe because they often happen with both vehicles traveling at high speeds in opposite directions. Rear and rear offset crashes, on the other hand, often happen at lower speeds. In many cases, one vehicle is stopped or nearly stopped, and the other hits it from behind at a relatively low speed. Other times both vehicles are traveling in the same direction at similar speeds when one is bumped from behind. Either way, the difference in the speed of the vehicles is usually much lower in rear end crashes, and so the energy in the crash will also be much lower. Lower energy means less chance of injury.