Rear-Facing Car Seat Law: A Dissent


The governor of California just signed a new law requiring all children to be rear-facing in car seats until the age of 2.

As a bleeding heart liberal and gentle parent this kind of thing should be right up my alley. After all, how could anyone dissent on keeping little ones safe? What other side to this issue could there possibly be? There is no downside to vehicle safety, right? What kind of reckless monster would intentionally endanger the life of her own child and all the other children who could be saved by the passage of this law? One study says children are 5 times safer and another says children are 75% less likely to die or be seriously injured while rear facing. Research-based evidence that informs policy is my jam! The fact of the matter is that most children are safer rear-facing.

And that is where I hit a wall with this law (don’t worry, I was safely restrained so I could live to write another day): most, but not all. There are some children for whom rear-facing in a carseat until the age of 2 is not safer than forward-facing. My child was not safer rear-facing than forward-facing. The imminent risk of permanent injury or death while rear-facing was greater than the potential increased risk of not rear-facing, for him (In his case, he would get so car sick that he would scream cry, vomit, and aspirate, forcing me to try to monitor his breathing from the driver’s seat and pull off on the side of busy roads to resuscitate him). This is our truth. Arguments of “Your truth is false,” are not productive to the discussion because, and this is an important point I want to emphasize, I know what’s best for my baby, better than you, concerned citizen with good intentions but who has never even met my child (you might speculate as to what you would do in a similar situation, but you were not there holding my blue baby on the side of the freeway and the quip, “Don’t drive” is a very privileged solution that is not available to everyone at all times), and certainly better than you, Uncle Sam, who is not even capable of seeing my individual child with his specific set of needs.

It is my responsibility as a parent to make informed choices for my child. As such, I scoured all of the research available at the time. I consulted all of the experts I could track down. I tried every potential solution I could get my hands on. I pity the road block that stands between a devoted mother and her child’s best interest. I left no stone unturned – no potential solution unconsidered. The thing about my responsibility to make informed choices for my child is that they are my choices to make, not yours, not a doctor’s (though turning our child forward-facing was our last resort but emphatically suggested by his pediatrician), and not the government’s (because I have an intimate knowledge and investment in my child’s well being that no one else in the universe shares).

One argument I’ve heard that simultaneously allows for the truth that this one law does not fit all and supports the use of the law was that a medical exemption could be added wherein you could seek the permission of your child’s pediatrician. This scares me. The notion that I would need the permission of a person in authority acting on behalf of the political power to keep my child safe is radically frightening. (Now I sound like a libertarian. The next time you see me I might be held up on a mountain with a beard and a gun. Just kidding. My libertarian friends are actually quite lovely.)

Another suggestion was to have an educational exemption. This would involve the law being in place to protect the masses but you could opt out if you complete an educational unit regarding the safety issues the law is addressing, thus ensuring an informed decision as opposed to ignorant endangerment. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just keep the education component and ditch the law?

Quite frankly, I don’t get the fervor around this law. In sharing my perspective I have been met with heinous accusations regarding who this means I am as a professional and mother. You know what I say it means? That I will do what is best for my child and be honest and open with my truth regardless of the pressure to conform and be silent. “Do you want your child to be comfortable or alive?” Rhetoric of this extreme and over-simplified nature is not helpful to the discussion. I’m not advocating for a law that prevents you from rear-facing your child. I’m just saying I want the freedom to do what is best for mine.

If you’re passionate about car seat safety, please, please make effort to educate and inspire families. (And I will continue to do so too: extended rear-facing, car seats, and five-point harnesses clipped without excess slack at the chest is an evidence-based standard that I recommend! I just also allow enough flexibility for the reality that not every child is “standard.”) Put the information out there through simply role modeling with your own children and/or directly disseminating the safety recommendations. Safety recommendations are golden, in my opinion. But they are recommendations. Lead the horses to water, but you can’t make them drink. I am a sincere and passionate advocate of a lot of things in the world of parenting. I don’t reach families by telling them they better or else. I respect them enough not to presume to be an expert on their child nor to make their choices for them.