The child passenger safety world is full of outdated information that has been spread by well meaning individuals. One of the most common misconceptions is which position the handle on a rear facing only seat must be in while in use in the car.
“The handle must be up because it protects the baby in a rollover crash.”
I have heard this a few times, and I have not been able to pinpoint where this particular rumor came from; it seems to go back to the early 2000’s. Some seats have designed the handle to act as a rebound control, but certainly not all of them.
“The handle must be down because that is how it locks.”
This rumor is a little easier pinpoint the origination. The rear facing only seat has seen many transformations since it first came out; first without a base, then with a base. The first rear facing only seat to be sold with the base that stayed in the car came out in the 1980s. This seat, made by Century, was required to have the handle in the “down” position, by the back of the seat. This was required because this was how the seat locked into the base. Most other manufacturers followed suit and required theirs to be down as well.
“A police officer told me it’s against the law for it to be up”
There are some CPSTs and public safety officials that have latched onto this “rule”, and it traces back to seats that did have this requirement – however it’s completely false. There is not a law in any state that regulates the position of an infant seat handle. Most simply require the seat to be used according to the manufacturers directions.
Each seat has different rules for where the handle can be. As always, your manual is your most powerful and informative tool about the correct handle position(s) that your seat allows. For quick reference we have made a chart showing what positions are allowed for each rear facing only seat. For simplicity’s sake the chart only contains currently available seats.
First though, lets talk about what those different positions are:
This first picture shows the “carry” position. It can be called different names by different companies, but carry describes the position well. It puts the handle straight up.
The second position is called the convenience position. This puts the handle more towards the head of the seat.
The third position is called travel. It puts the handle at the top of the head.
The fourth position is called the stand position. This position is completely behind the head of the seat.
Last, a handful of seats have what’s called a rebound position. This position is down towards the child’s feet.
There the most common position for handles on a rear facing only seat. Some seats will allow for any of these positions, others specifically require one or another. Below, you will find the chart we have made to quickly reference which handle position is correct. Canadian seats have different rules, so this chart only applies to the US. As always, your very best reference is the manual for your seat: always read the manual!