Why rear facing?

We all know that infants should be rear facing in their infant seats in the car. But what happens when the child outgrows the infant seat? Many parents want to turn their children forward as fast as possible but of course we all want our children to be as safe as possible. Did you know that it's five times safer for a child to be rear facing? Scandinavian children are rear facing until they are 4–5 years old (25kg or 55lbs), which has resulted in a much lower number of children injured or dead in car accidents compared with other countries, as for instance the UK. So why is rear facing safer? On this site you will get the facts and figures to show you why rear facing is safer. Then it is up to you to decide what is best for your child.

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Safer in an accident

The most dangerous car accidents are frontal collisions. They represent the accidents where the highest speeds and the greatest forces are at play. When a child is forward facing and a frontal collision occurs the child is flung forward in the seat, being caught by the harness. This puts stress on the neck, the spine, and the internal organs.

The neck is completely unprotected when the head is catapulted forward. Whether the child can withstand the force of impact has nothing to do with muscle power. It is the spine that has to keep the head in place. (Not even physically strong adults can keep their heads in place using muscle power in an accident, but adult's skeletons are different to children's, as we will see.) A child's spine and skeleton is still growing. It has not solidified into bone yet, but is still very soft with lots of cartilage. This means that the neck is vulnerable to the great force it's being subjected to in a car crash and in a worst case scenario the neck will stretch so much that the spine snaps. This is called internal decapitation and basically means that the child has been internally beheaded. In tests, the dummy's neck has been stretched as much as 2 inches, but the spine can not be stretch more than a quarter of an inch before snapping.

The rib cage under the harness is also soft and the ribs will bend rather than snap. The rib cage cannot protect the soft internal organs such as heart and spleen, which might then get damaged.

In a rear facing car seat, the child is flung into the back of the seat and the force of impact is distributed along the whole back of the seat. The neck, spine and internal organs are not subjected to the stress of the force and are therefore protected.

Impact Diagram

In a forward facing seat the neck is subjected to a force equivalent to 300-320kg, while in a rear facing seat, the force on the neck is equivalent to 50kg.

Click on the links below to see films from crash tests. In these films you will see how children in forward facing and rear facing seats will fare in a collision.

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Children are not small adults

A child is much more vulnerable in an accident as they are still growing. Their proportions are not the same as adults'. Their heads are 25% of their bodyweight. If adults' heads where the same proportions the head would weigh 20kg.

Child Proportions

The child's skeleton has not yet been solidified into bone, but is still soft, mainly consisting of cartilage. When subjected to violent force the skeleton will bend rather than break. On an adult the rib cage protects our vital organs such as heart, lungs, spleen etc. On a child this is not the case. When flung against the harness in a forward facing child seat the rib cage cannot cope with the force on impact and the organs inside might be injured and damaged. Same thing with the neck. The spine has not solidified. It is soft and might stretch and snap, in which case the bone marrow is the only thing left preventing internal decapitation.

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Are there reasons not to keep the child rear facing?

Many parents are concerned about keeping their children rear facing. Many of the arguments can be found in the FAQ section on this web site. Have a look and see what you think. Is your main concern not covered? Let us know and we will look into it and post an answer on the site.

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Are not all forward facing seats ECE R44.03/ECE R44.04 tested and approved?

The ECE R44.03/ECE R44.04 test has been developed by the United Nations. All car seats have to pass this test to be approved for sale in the UK or in the EU. The test is conducted by putting the seat in a crash test vehicle. A dummy is placed in the seat. A bar is placed 550 mm in front of the dummy in the seat. The vehicle is crashed. The test will see if the dummy hits its head on the bar or hits any other part of the vehicle as well as its chest acceleration. It will also measure if the seat slides. At the moment, the test does not look at what happens to internal organs or what forces the neck is subjected to. Some consumer tests are looking at introducing a new type of dummy, the so called Q-dummy. This dummy measures the forces the dummy (and in effect child) is subjected to, but at the moment it is not used for ECE testings. If they were to be introduced, the test results could change dramatically, so it is well worth keeping an eye on when these new dummies might be introduced!

In Scandinavia, rear facing car seats have been used for a long time and crash test dummies always measure the forces the body is subjected to, including the forces on the neck. These tests clearly show that children in rear facing car seats are subjected to five time less force on the neck than children in forward facing car seats. The internal organs are also protected to a greater extent.

Crash Forces

Children in Sweden are extremely unlikely to die in car accidents. Between July 2006 and November 2007 not a single child under the age of 6 years old was killed in a car crash in Sweden (Source: VTI Sweden). According to the AA’s website, 205 children are injured in car crashes in the UK every year and 21 are killed.

With rearfacing group 1 car seats this statistic could change.

Help us turn things around!

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Where can you buy rear facing car seats?

At the moment, the only rear facing car seats you can buy in a high street shop in the UK are the combination seats that will keep your child rear facing until 10 or 13kg, depending on make. This is not enough. In Scandinavia, there are rear facing seats for children up to 25kg (55lbs). The curious thing is that it is the same manufacturers that sell car seats in Scandinavia and in the UK. For instance, Britax's Swedish website stresses that rear facing is safer than forward facing. Their UK website does not mention this at all. The same is the case for Graco and other major car manufacturers. Why is this? Do Britax and other manufacturers not value British children as much as Scandinavian children? I'm sure they do, but what prompts this discrepency? If they know that rear facing is safer, why do they not provide them for the UK market?

Britax provide the Scandinavian rear facing car seats in one shop in Milton Keynes, advertised for children with special needs as the safest alternative, but have no plans to provide these seats to the high street shops in 2007-2008.

If you think this is odd, and you want a rear facing car seat for your child, send emails to car seat manufacturers. Go to your local shop and ask them why they do not stock rear facing car seats. Write to your MP and ask him or her to look into this issue as well. Together we can make a difference, which will benefit all children in the UK.

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