Something that would greatly benefit car seat research was first used in 1949, a crash test dummy. Over the years technology has gotten more and more advanced and researchers today have amassed a large amount of data which help to keep our children safe in cars. In the old days dummy’s with adult heads were used and the inside was anything but sophisticated. Test dummy’s today act much like humans, but packed with advanced electronics inside to teach us more about safety. These dummy’s have helped to save countless lives over the years.
How much safer is rear facing? Research has shown rear facing to be 500% safer up to two years of age. Do benefits disappear after that? Not at all. Rear facing is always safer, even for adults like you and me. Benefits decrease with age as our children develop fragile head, neck and spine. Rear facing at ages 3 or 4 still offer large benefits which the Swedes have shown in real life.
500% may sound like a lot but numbers can be hard to grasp. In 100 collisions of rear facing kids, 8 rear facing children will die or become seriously injured. 92 will walk away fine. In 100 collisions with forward facing kids, 40 will die or become seriously injured. 60 will walk away fine. Those are large differences which help to save lives.
We often think of our children as adults, just a little smaller. They may look like small adults but reality is far different. Protecting a baby or child in a car is difficult due to body composition being very different than an adult. Head, neck and spine are delicate and far from developed. Rear facing helps to preserve this delicate area in a collision.
Look at your little one, especially at the head. An adult head is around 6% of body weight, a 9-month old baby’s head is a stunning 25% of body weight. The head of a baby is not only disproportionally large, it also consist mostly of head and brain. Face is relatively small. This is one one reason why head injuries in children are far more severe than in adults.
The neck vertebrae of a young child is very delicate due to the whole neck area being underdeveloped. When a baby is born, neck vertebrae is “composed of separate portions of bone joined by cartilage, in other words, the baby’s skeleton is still soft”. The cartilage turns into bone during the first three years of a baby’s life. The hardening process of the bones, called ossification, continues until puberty. Muscles and ligaments in the neck develop in a similar way.
Over the years, neck vertebrae slowly change shape in a way which makes if far stronger. It goes from being flat to being saddle-shaped. This is more important than one might think. “Being saddle-shaped also means that the vertebrae will hold together and support one another if the head is thrown forward. The young child lacks this extra protection”
Young children can’t handle the incredibly high forces in a collision while forward facing. Not even at speeds which we adults may think are minor. Rear facing a child give fantastic protection, so great fatalities are difficult to find in collisions with a correctly installed seat.
In a forward facing seat, a child’s shoulders and body are held back by the harness. But neck and head area are thrown violently forward putting tremendous force on the yet undeveloped head, neck and spine. For a rear facing child a collision is relatively undramatic with the whole back of child absorbing the impact forces. Head and neck and pressed back into the seat and remain well protected.
Collisions at minor speeds may cause catastrophic injuries, like in the case of Joel. Joel was 18 months old and 33 lbs. when he collided in his forward facing seat at relatively low speed. He was forward facing because his parents believed it was safe. Joel broke his neck and spend many months in the hospital. The great news are that Joel is making a nice recovery and that his grandfather James has turned into a huge rear facing advocate helping us to challenge authorities worldwide to change recommendations and educate parents better about rear facing.
James fight for longer rear facing has meant lots of publicity which is exactly what’s needed. Many parents are still unaware of all the rear facing benefits. Joel is doing much better and today travel rear facing in his car in a Britax Multi Tech from CarSeat.se.
Grandpa James has produced a powerful video showing what happened to Joel and what parents can learn from Joel’s journey. Please click here to view James video.
Parents in many countries unfortunately turn their children forward facing way too early causing many unnecessary injuries and fatalities
Over a million rearward-facing seats are in use in Sweden, and we do not know of any cases where a child in a rearward-facing car seat has been seriously injured in a frontal collision.
What should a parent do? Keep your child rear facing for as long as possible which is until limit of seat is reached by either height or weight. If you would like a seat which keeps your child rear facing for the maximum amount of time, please have a look at our online store and the high weight Swedish seats.