It is important to say when used properly here as data from fire department personnel through the years shows upwards of 50% of child safety seats are not properly installed. This could be as simple as the belt tensioner not being pulled tight enough, but there have been instances where the child was sitting on top of the restraints (the restraints were only protecting the seat in this instance and not the child). The latest most famous instance of abuse of child safety seat laws is Britney Spears driving with her child in her lap. There is a lot of literature available on how to properly install and adjust a child safety seat, but more needs to be done to reduce unnecessary injuries due to improperly installed child safety seats.
Even though any child safety seat is better than none, a rear facing seat is especially important for babies and small children as they can face the highest risks of paralysis and permanent injury. Babies and small children are at risk for more severe spinal cord and brain and neck injuries as their muscles are weaker and their head weighs significantly more in proportion to the rest of their body. This increases the extent and severity of whiplash injuries. According to the National Institute for Highway Safety:
Rear-facing car seats spread frontal crash forces over the whole area of the babys back, head and neck; they also prevent the head from snapping relative to the body in a frontal crash.
So, it is obvious that we should use a rear facing child safety seat for as long as feasible and as required by our state and federal driving laws. It is important to note that regardless of the child safety seat used, not all injuries can be prevented. Unfortunately some crashes are unavoidable and unsurvivable. Still, we can do much to increase our chances of survival for our children by properly installing the child safety seats. It is a good idea to stop by your local fire department and have them look at your child safety seats. They are trained to know exactly what is and is not safe in these safety seats and its free. Besides, kids love firemen and fire engines, they will have fun and you will feel better about their safety.