On the heals of the new AAP recommendations for car seat use. The NHTSA has updated its guidelines as well and they basically say the same thing. Kids should remain in a rear facing car seat until they max out the height and weight limits of that particular car seat. Unfortunately this isn't as simple a rule as 1yr and 20lbs, but I'm am very pleased to see these updates so that all parents are given the opportunity to make the safest choices for their children. Here is a summary from their website.
Birth to 1: Children under the age of 1 should always ride on a REAR-FACING car seat. There are different types of rear-facing car seats: Infant-only seats can only be used rear-facing. Convertible and 3-in 1 car seats typically have higher height and weight limits for the rear-facing position, allowing you to keep your child rear-facing for a longer period of time.
Age 1 – 3: Keep your 1 to 3 year old children in a REAR-FACING car seat for as long as possible. It’s the best way to keep them safe. They should remain in a rear-facing car seat until they reach the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer. Once outgrown the rear-facing car seat, your child is ready to travel in a FORWARD-FACING car seat with a harness.
Age 4 – 7: Keep your 4 to 7 year old children in their FORWARD-FACING car seat with a harness until they reach the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer. Once they outgrow their forward-facing car seat with a harness, it’s time to travel on a BOOSTER SEAT … but still in the rear seat.
Age 8 – 12: Keep your 8 to 12 year old children on their BOOSTER SEAT until they are big enough to fit in a seat belt properly. Seat Belts – For a seat belt to fit properly the lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snug across the shoulder and chest and not cross the neck or face.
For a lot of parents this unfortunately means they will be have to go back to a previous stage. Either turn them back around or move back into a 5-point harness from a booster or maybe even back into a car seat. The sad part is the information about the safety of car seats isn't new, just the recommendations. I just spent some time looking through some comprehensive lists of car seats and very few 5-point harnesses go above 40lbs. This will have to change since very few 7-yr olds' are under 40lbs! This means in order to make the safest choice a lot of parents are going to have to buy another car seat. Those car seats that go up to higher weights are generally at the top of the price range! Which means if you already spent $100 on a car seat that goes up to 40 lbs you are likely going to have to spend upwards of $200 on one that goes up to 60 or 70 lbs to keep pace with the current guidelines(particularly if you have a heavy child)! I am hoping stores will offer some serious discounts on the higher weight limit seats to help parents afford these options.
I have found three car seats that are under $150 and go up to 65lbs forward facing.
or this color option
The Evenflo Momentum65 ($140 Overstock.com)
All get high ratings for ease of use but I don't know what the crash test ratings are.
This is a good thing for kids.