When Can a Baby Face Forward in a Car?

By Shelley Frost

Updated August 23, 2018

Baby safety concept


Car Seat Safety for Your Baby

Your baby is in a world of his own when he's rear-facing, but positioning his car seat facing the back of the car is the safest position for the first years of his life. Waiting as long as possible to turn him forward-facing increases his safety every time he rides in the car. Learn when it's safe for him to make the switch.

When Can Your Child Face Forward?

Experts recommend leaving your child rear-facing until at least age 2 or until she reaches the maximum rear-facing height and weight limits for your car seat. Those limits can vary depending on the type of car seat you use. Seats designed to be used rear-facing only generally have a weight limit of 22 to 40 pounds. Convertible car seats and three-in-one seats usually work in the rear-facing position until your child reaches 40 to 50 pounds. Read the owner's manual, or check the label on the side of the seat to find the information for your specific car seat model.

The Argument for Rear-Facing Car Seats

Turning your child's car seat forward is so tempting. You can keep an eye on your little toddler. He gets to see you and all of the exciting things outside the car. But there are many reasons to leave your little one in a rear-facing position as long as possible, and they all come down to safety.

When your child sits in a rear-facing seat, the impact of a crash spreads evenly across the seat and your child's body, so he's less likely to have a severe injury in a car accident. The backward positioning also cuts down on head movement, which helps protect against head and neck injuries. Research shows that kids up to 23 months who are secured in rear-facing car seats have a 75 percent lower risk of dying or suffering a serious injury than they would if they faced forward.

Car Seat Safety Tips

Whether your child faces the front or back of the car, proper installation and car seat use is crucial to keeping her safe every time she rides in the car. Follow these car seat safety tips:

  • Position the car seat in the back seat in the middle position if possible. Never place the car seat in the front seat or near an airbag.
  • Install the car seat according to the manufacturer's instructions. Installation is similar for all models, but your car seat might have specific guidelines for maximum safety.
  • Secure the car seat tightly, so it moves no more than one inch either front to back or side to side. 
  • Adjust the harness straps to fit your child's height. When rear-facing, the harness straps should be at or just below her shoulders. For a forward-facing seat, the shoulder straps should be at or just above her shoulders. Read the owner's manual for specific details for your car seat model.
  • Secure the chest buckle, and slide it to armpit height. The straps should be tight and flat against your child with no slack in them.
  • Install the car seat using your car's LATCH system when possible. Attach the tether strap at the top of the car seat to your vehicle's anchor to keep the seat stable.
  • Remove thick coats or blankets before strapping your baby into her car seat. Cover her up with a blanket after you buckle her.
  • Adjust the angle of the seat to prevent your baby's head from flopping forward. Some seats have angle gauges on them to help you adjust the seat.

Many car dealerships and police departments offer free car seat installation clinics. Trained professionals check your installation or help you install the car seat properly, so you can feel as confident as possible when you strap your baby into her seat.