(The Daily Dish) Most parents know that infants should ride in car seats, in the back seat, and rear-facing. Now Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital is recommending tots stay in rear-facing car seats as long as possible – and well into their preschool years.

“A driver never sets out thinking they’ll be in a car crash, but it does happen,” said Michelle Jamison, community health manager at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital. “We recommend keeping little ones in rear-facing car seats through their toddler years and in some cases, depending on the child’s size and the type of car seat until they’re 4 years old to prevent serious injury in the event of a crash.”

A child’s head, neck, and spine are not fully developed until they are much older, Jamison said. Rear-facing car seats absorb crash forces and help prevent more serious injuries.

“A child’s long legs are never a reason to turn your child forward-facing,” Jamison said. “We don’t see broken legs from keeping a child in a rear-facing car seat, but we do see spinal injuries from turning them around too soon.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children ride in a rear-facing car seat until they have reached the age and weight limits on the seat’s label. This will include virtually all children until they reach 2 years of age and most children up to age 4.

“Every time you change your child from rear-facing to forward-facing, then to a booster seat to a seatbelt alone, you lose an extra layer of safety,” Jamison said. “Don’t rush it.”

Here are some additional tips to avoid the three most common car seat mistakes:

  • Keep harness straps snug.
  • Use either the vehicle’s anchors OR the seat belt when installing the car seat – not both – and cinch tightly. The car seat should move less than an inch once installed.
  • Be sure the child’s harness straps are correctly positioned. In a rear-facing seat, the child wears the harness straps like a reversed backpack, with the straps in line with or just below their shoulders. In a forward-facing seat, the child wears the harness straps in line with or just above their shoulders, similar to how an adult wears a seat belt.

Here are some additional car seat tips for kids of all ages:

  • Always place the car seat rear-facing in the back seat of a vehicle.  Children under age 13 should always ride in the back seat.
  • Make sure the car seat fits properly in the vehicle. Check the vehicle owner’s manual and the safety seat instructions for proper placement procedures.
  • Avoid secondhand and expired safety seats.
  • Children should use booster seats until they are 4 feet 9 inches tall, and the seatbelt fits them properly. It should lay on the shoulder and not cut into the neck, and it should be low across the hips as the child sits with their back against the vehicle seat, legs bent over the edge of the seat, and feet flat on the floor.

For questions about car seats, call the Primary Children’s car seat team at 801-662-6583. More information can be found here.

*Sponsored by The Utah Department of Health.