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How long should my child be in a rear facing car seat?

November 2, 2016 by Steven M. Gursten

What parents and caregivers need to know about the age, weight requirements for moving a child into a forward-facing car seat


Keeping our children safe is priority No. 1 for parents and caregivers.

As parents, we already know this. But, as an auto accident attorney who frequently blogs about tips for staying safe on the road, and who’s had to deal with the most tragic of automobile accidents – those involving young children – it’s also something I’m reminded of daily.

Fortunately, our attorneys write this Auto Law Blog as a forum to discuss safety.  We’ve posted many blogs about the car seat law in Michigan, and we continue to address questions from parents about children’s car seats.

One of the most commonly asked questions – and source of parental confusion in this state – involve this question about rear facing car seats:

How long do kids have to use a rear facing car seat?

Generally speaking, children must be in a rear facing car seat until they’re two years old or until they reach the highest weight or height limit recommended for their car seat.

That answer is based on both Michigan’s child car seat law and the recommendations of the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning (OHSP) – which are discussed in more detail below.

To learn more about Michigan’s child car seat law, please check out Michigan Auto Law’s blog post, “Police interpretation of Michigan’s existing car seat law.”

Michigan’s car seat law still leaves some questions unanswered

Unfortunately, Michigan’s car seat law does not address the specific issue of when a child must use a rear facing car seat and/or when a child may “graduate” to a forward-facing car seat. (MCL 257.710d (1) and (2))

OHSP’s ‘Car Seat Basics’ flyer

In its “Car Seat Basics” flyer, the OHSP recommends the following for the use of rear facing car seats:

“All babies and toddlers should ride in rear-facing car seats until they are 2 years old or until they reach the highest weight or height limit allowed by the car seat.”

As for moving up to a forward facing car seat, the OHSP recommends:

“All children 2 years or older, or those who have outgrown the weight or height limit of their rear-facing seat, should ride in a forward-facing car seat with a harness for as long as possible up to the highest weight or height allowed by the car seat.”

(Source: “Car Seat Basics,” Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, flyer)

OHSP’s ‘Michigan Car Seat Basics’ video

In its video posted on the Michigan State Police’s “Child Passenger Safety” webpage, the OHSP recommends the following for rear-facing car seats:

  • “Rear-facing only car seats are for newborns … until about one year.”
  • “The next step is a rear-facing convertible car seat … until the age of two or when they reach the upper weight or height limit for that car seat … usually about 40 lbs.”

The OHSP states that the next step is for kids to ride in a forward-facing car seat:

  • “[F]ive-point harness …”
  • “[U]ntil they reach the top weight or height limit … that’s usually about age five.”

Related info:

When do I switch my child from a car seat to a booster seat?

How old does my child have to be to sit in the front seat?

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