As previously mentioned, it was the Swedish Professor Bertil Aldman who discovered the enormous benefits of rear facing children. He started his research very early, in the 1960’s, when car seat safety was far from a priority.
The impetus for modern child safety was born in Sweden 1963. The first rear-facing child safety seat was designed by Bertil Aldman of Chalmers University in Gothenburg, Sweden. While watching an American TV program, Aldman noticed the position of the astronauts in the Gemini space capsule. By lying on their backs, in opposite direction to the force of acceleration, they were better able to withstand the acceleration. Professor Aldman believed that this principle could be applied to protect a child in the event of a head-on collision.
This seemingly easy conclusion led to research in Sweden when most countries were many years from even thinking about car seat safety. Look back at how you were sitting in the 1960’s or 1970’s, most likely you were not in any car seat at all back then.
Head, neck , and spine are vulnerable for babies and children, especially when sitting forward facing in a collision. Researchers quickly discovered that by keeping children rear facing, forces were spread more evenly over a child’s back.
In the event of a front-end collision, the whole of the child’s back takes the strain of the impact, not its much more vulnerable neck.
Research also proved that children were far better protected in side collisions due to being pushed into the chair instead of being thrown out of it and exposing head, neck and spine.
While Professor Aldman started research on the subject, another Swede has been credited with saving most children in traffic. Thomas Turbell, the father of rear facing, was a researcher who realized the benefits of rear facing early on but was often met by shaking heads.
I visited a traffic safety conference in Geneva 1975 and researchers just shook theri heads when I presented my results. The common belief back then was that children would get car sick if they rode rear facing, says Thomas Turbell.
Thomas worked tirelessly to convince Swedish politicians and other researchers of the rear facing benefits. Luckily they listened to his advice and set tough standards. The Swedish “T-standard” was so tough it was virtually impossible for a forward facing car seat to pass.
Read more about the Swedes and their rear facing habits here.