Healthcare providers and parents need to be aware that it is safer for children to travel in rear-facing car seats until the age of four, according to a study.
Scientists say that a rear-facing seat is safer in a crash, and can help the child avoid chest, neck and spine injuries.
However, many parents who are unaware of the safety implications switch babies to forward-facing seats at around eight months old.
Dr Elizabeth Watson, a GP at the Sunny Meed Surgery in Woking, and Dr Michael Monteiro, a specialist registrar at the Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford, found that rear-facing seats were more effective than forward-facing seats at protecting children under the age of four.
The head, neck and spine are kept more aligned in rear-facing seats, meaning the force of the crash is distributed more evenly.
However, in a front-facing seat, in the event of a head-on collision, the relatively large head of a young child can increase the likelihood of severe injury.
Publishing their findings in the British Medical Journal online, the authors said that many parents and healthcare providers were unaware of the issue, and sometimes did not realise that rear-facing seats for toddlers exist.