FRIDAY, Jan. 23, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Nearly three-quarters of American parents place their children in forward-facing car seats before it's safe to do so, a new study reveals.
Guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that a rear-facing car seat be used until a child is at least 2 years old or has outgrown the weight/height limit of the seat.
For the study, University of Michigan researchers compared findings from surveys of American parents conducted about one month after the AAP guidelines were issued in 2011, and again in 2013.
The first survey found that 33 percent of parents of children aged 1 to 4 years had started using forward-facing car seats when their child was 1-year-old or younger, and only 16 percent waited until age 2 or older to use a forward-facing seat.
In the 2013 survey, 24 percent of parents said they turned the seat around before their child's first birthday, and 23 percent waited until age 2 or older to use a forward-facing seat, the investigators found.
"So we've seen some improvement, with a higher proportion of parents reporting that they are waiting longer to make the switch to a forward-facing car seat," study lead author Dr. Michelle Macy, of the university's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, said in a university news release.
"However, almost one-quarter of parents are turning their children before their first birthday. And few parents report waiting until that second birthday to make the turn," Macy added.
Macy said getting parents to "delay the transition to a forward-facing seat still represents an opportunity to improve passenger safety in the United States."
Traffic crashes are a leading cause of death among children younger than 4 years, the study authors noted in the news release.
"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," Macy said.
"But delaying the switch can make a big difference," she said. "In Sweden it is culturally accepted that children up to age 4 are in rear-facing seats and child traffic fatalities are among the lowest in the world."
Safercar.gov has more about car safety seats.