According to a British study parents should keep their children in rear-facing car seats at least until the age of four.
Currently it is common practice in many countries to switch babies to front-facing seats when a child is about nine kilos (20 pounds), the average weight of an eight months old boy, said the study.
British general physician Elizabeth Watson and Michael Monteiro of Sunny Meed Surgery in Woking, near London, reviewed key studies from Europe and the United States to see if any safety patterns emerged.
They found that small children were consistently safer in a car when they were looking where they have been rather than where they were headed.
"Parents and guardians should be advised to keep young children in rear facing seats for as long as possible," the two researchers concluded.
"Excessive stretching or even transection (cutting) of the spinal cord can result if a child is involved in a head-on crash while in a forward facing car seat."
Data from Sweden, where rear-facing seats for kids up to four is the norm, showed that some children in forward-facing booster seats who died in accidents could have survived had then been facing the other way round.
A review of US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data on crashes between 1998 and 2003 involving 870 children concluded that rear-facing seats were better at protecting kids up to 23 months across all types of accidents.
Unlike forward-facing seats, rear-facing car seats keep the head, neck and spine fully aligned so the force of the crash is distributed over all of these body areas, noted the study, published on the website of the British Medical Journal.
The researchers called on manufacturers and retailers to increase the availability of rear-facing seats for older children.
They also called for a change to the current weight-range labeling of European seats, which suggest that forward-and-rear facing seats are equally safe for kids over nine kilos.