Most Parents Use Car Seats Unsafely

carseat, car safety, children safety
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Almost three-quarters of parents fail to follow the safety advice to use rear-facing car seats for their toddlers until age 2, a new study finds. Instead, most parents turn their child's car seat around, to a front-facing position, at an earlier age than recommended, and a quarter of parents even turn the seats around before their child reaches 1 year old.

"There are lots of reasons why parents are eager to change from the rear-facing to forward-facing seat," study co-author Dr. Michelle Macy, a pediatric emergency medicine specialist at the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, said in a statement. For example, parents may think their children are too large for their rear-facing seats, or parents may prefer seeing their children when driving, Macy said.

"But delaying the switch can make a big difference. In Sweden, it is culturally accepted that children up to age 4 are in rear-facing seats, and child traffic fatalities [in that country] are among the lowest in the world," Macy said. [9 Weird Ways Kids Can Get Hurt]

Previously, U.S. guidelines recommended keeping children in a rear-facing seat until age 1, but in March 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics changed the recommendation, saying that it is safer for children to remain in a rear-facing seat until age 2, or until children have outgrown the weight or height limits of their rear-facing seat.

In the new study, the researchers found that in 2013, 24 percent of parents said they had turned their babies to face forward before the child was 1 year old. Only 23 percent reported waiting until the child was 2 to turn the seat around to the front-facing position.

However, the new data did show a trend of improvement among parents, the researchers said. In 2011, 33 percent of parents said they had turned their toddlers to face forward before the kids were 1 year old, and just 16 percent reported waiting until the child reached 2.

Still, more children will be safer if more parents follow the guidelines. Car accidents remain a leading cause of death among children, and that is partly because many child passengers are not properly restrained, the researchers said.

The study was published Jan. 5 in the journal Academic Pediatrics.

Email Bahar Gholipour. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.

Bahar Gholipour
Staff Writer
Bahar Gholipour is a staff reporter for Live Science covering neuroscience, odd medical cases and all things health. She holds a Master of Science degree in neuroscience from the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Paris, and has done graduate-level work in science journalism at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She has worked as a research assistant at the Laboratoire de Neurosciences Cognitives at ENS.