So recently, over on my wife’s Facebook page a debate began on a video she shared, informing people of the safety benefits of using a rear-facing car seat. It seems we as parents, are faced (no pun intended) with a confusing and difficult choice in terms of what’s best for our children. There are height based car seats (also known as i-size), weight based car seats, forward-facing, rear-facing etc. then within that there are different sub groups that apply to the weight/size of your child. It’s a minefield.
Firstly, the current law allows a child who is over 9kg to forward-face if you’re using a weight based car seat. So from a legal point of view it’s fit for purpose. However the same law explains that, equally, a rear-facing car seat can be used for a child from birth up to 36kg.
The information circulated around this isn’t clear or easily accessible but research has found that rear-facing children are some 90% safer in the event of an accident than those forward facing.
A few reasons for this significant difference are; A rear-facing car seat helps keep your child’s head, neck and spine aligned during an impact. A forward-facing car seat will help slow down and restrain your child’s torso with straps but offers little or no support to your child’s head, neck or spine. This basically means the brunt of the impact force will travel through your child’s head, neck and spine & could potentially be even more increased by the straps resistance across the child’s body. As your child’s body is slowed down by the straps, their head and neck will still be moving forward at full speed. Babies and smaller children have much less muscular strength in their neck/back to offer any support to this type of force. Most adults would suffer at least whiplash from this type of impact so you can imagine the effect it would have on a baby or small child. This could result in severe spinal cord injuries to your child, particularly when their spine is still developing.
The main point being that in a rear-facing car seat, your child is cocooned from the impact, their head, neck and spine is kept aligned and the car seat absorbs and spreads the force of the impact reducing the risk of serious injury massively.
Now the most common reasons I’ve come across as to why parents don’t or can’t follow this advice are: 1) I can’t afford a rear facing car seat. 2) My child would be uncomfortable with their legs scrunched up. 3) Surely if I’m following the law and the car seat is fit for purpose then it’s okay?
I’ll start with point 3, in terms of the law, sure.. you’re not doing anything wrong. But in terms of keeping your baby as safe as possible then a rear-facing car seat should be strongly considered. What other advice that shows how to keep your child some 5x safer would you choose to ignore?
Point 2, the comfort argument is a tricky one, I know first hand what it’s like to be driving a car with a child or two having a meltdown. Aria literally screamed for 45 minutes out of a 50 minute journey the other day, it’s really really hard and can distract you from driving, especially if you are on your own with the kids. Some people find it hard to see how their child would fit in a rear-facing seat, because where would their legs go? Rear-facing car seats are designed for the child to sink into them more so they are cocooned within the seat for maximum protection, also they are installed in a reclined position so there is more space for their limbs created by this angle. A rear-facing car seat is not a rigid 90 degree seat like most forward facing types. You’ll see in the picture of this post, my daughter is 14 months old here and when last checked was on the 98th percentile of height. She looks pretty cosy to me.
Back to point 1, probably the most controversial. Cost. Kids are expensive, everything adds up like you wouldn’t believe and now you’re being told you need to or should fork out £100’s of pounds for a rear-facing car seat too! Well, you don’t. I haven’t even trawled the internet for this, I literally googled ‘rear-facing car seat’ and one of the first ones I looked at was available for £160, suitable from birth up to 4 years or 18.5kgs+, now offset that against the cost of a front-facing car seat, say around £40, we are talking about £120 difference spread over almost 4 years to keep your child significantly safer when travelling in a car. Thats £2.50 a month. Roughly.
Ultimately, I hope you make the best decision for your family circumstances. I know every parent and every child is different so what works for one won’t always work for another. Hopefully this information and awareness will help you make that decision.
Lastly, I hope you’re never in a situation where it actually matters if you’re child is rear or front-facing.