As you know, every now and then, I ask my wife or friends to write an article on this blog. This time I asked my wife to write about rear facing car seats. Why? Because she has done extensive research that should benefit both parents, parents to be, and the general interested public. We don’t want to be patronising but give an objective view on it. Or my wife does:
Volker asked me to write a guest post about our choice of rear facing car seats for the boys. I am writing this purely to raise awareness that extended rear-facing (ERF) car seats exist and not to disregard anyone’s choice on their car seats. Every parent makes their choice based on many factors, and these are my views and some of the obstacles we have come across.
Colin, our eldest, was a big baby! By 7 months old he was 12.5kg and almost too heavy for his Maxicosi stage 0 infant carrier, time to think of a new car seat! Purely by chance I saw a post on babycentre.co.uk about ERF car seats. There was a link to youtube.com and safety videos, crash tests etc etc. I sat in tears watching a baby crash test dummy getting flung about. From then on I never considered putting Colin into a forward facing car seat, especially at such a young age.
Current UK guidelines state that a child should not be put in a forward-facing car seat till 9 months of age and/or weighs 9kg. But also advises that they should remain rear-facing as long as possible. This is under review I believe to recommend extended rearfacing for longer. Our infant carrier had a weight limit of 13kg, so at 7 months Colin was too young to forward-face ‘safely’ under these guidelines. I began my online research!!!! Sweden is the front runner for extended rear-facing and recommends that children don’t face forwards till the age of 4 years old.
So what are the benefits?
The whole principle is based on the fact that a small child’s head is large in proportion to its body. “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. 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”. “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.” (www.rearfacing.co.uk)
Here is a video showing this principle.
Many folk will have reservations. This is something new. Are forward-facing seats not safe? What about their legs? What about a ‘rear-ended’ crash? They will not be able to see anything. Will they get travel sick? They won’t like facing backwards………. the list goes on! Yes, forward-facing seats are safe, but rear-facing ones are safer. Perhaps their legs will be damaged, but this is better than their neck (also good time to point out that in forward-facing seats, broken legs are one of the most common injuries). Rear-impact crashes are generally of lower speed that frontal collisions and the forces are less. This blog post shows what can happen in this situation. Colin will point out all the different coloured buses and lorries from his seat, so he must be seeing something. He has never (yet) been travel sick and given his mother’s history this is a miracle! Colin and Rohan have never objected to facing backwards. They have never faced forwards, they don’t know the difference!
I could go on and on about why rear-facing is the way forward, but I think that covers the basics! And, of course my opinion is a bit biased.
Unfortunately we have encountered a few issues in our quest to keep the boys rear-facing. Space is a BIG issue. ERF seats are semi-universal and do not fit all cars unlike a lot of forward-facing universal seats. You need to have them professionally fitted and there are a limited number of places that actually do this. You cannot walk into Halfords or Mothercare to get one of these seats. Being a tall family (Volker is 197cm (6’6) and I am 179cm (5’11)) we cannot get away with a ‘normal’ sized car and have two ERF seats. Volker drives with the driving seat as far back as it can go in most cars. ERF seats are pretty bulky. You get the picture 🙁 So after the last car died back in November, we had the perfect opportunity to shop around for a car to fit our needs. We knew we needed to look for a big car, having previously owned a Volvo XC90 SUV and struggled to fit two ERF seats in comfortably, we went down the MPV route.
Wow they have space! However our quest did not end there. The majority of MPVs have underfloor storage compartments. “You should not install a rear facing car seat where there are underfloor storage compartments if the car seat has a support leg. In a collision, the support leg could penetrate the lid of the underfloor storage compartment and the car seat’s performance would be affected”. There are ways around this. You can ‘fill’ the storage boxes. I believe that Ford and Volkswagen offer a compartment filler for their Galaxy/S-Max and Sharan respectively. I have been told you can use ‘yellow pages’ or polystyrene. Or take the lid off the compartment and the support leg can go down to the base of the compartment. Or in some cases the support leg may not actually go near the compartment and miss it altogether. Personally I was not happy to ‘fill’ these compartments. Has this been properly tested?
What we could have done is testing it ourselves. Examples were to take off the compartment lid or seeing if the support leg misses the compartment, but that was not really an option for us. We did not have a car and lugging a bulky car seat, double pushchair on a bus with a grumpy toddler (and happy but fed up baby) to different car dealers just to see if our ERF seat fitted wasn’t my idea of fun! Turns out both Volkswagen and Ford didn’t have their MPVs on the showroom floor anyway, so just as well we didn’t! I didn’t want to buy a car to find that an ERF seat wouldn’t fit in it!
We did consider turning Colin around and putting him in a forward-facing seat and putting Rohan in his ERF seat, he is over 2.5 years now after all. That would have solved all our issues. Except one. What if we did have an accident and something terrible could have been prevented. I couldn’t live with that. The main issue is the trade off you make, like with insurance products. You hope to never have to use your insurance but if you need it, it better cover all your needs. That is our thinking behind the rear facing car seats. That is why we don’t like to compromise. Maybe we are a bit over protective, but can you ever be too over protective with your own children? And getting a rear facing car seat is not like wrapping them up in cotton wool as other people would do.
In the end we found a MPV, a Seat Alhambra, that didn’t have underfloor storage compartments, plenty leg room and fitted our ERF seat behind the driver side fully extended. Sorted! It arrived last week! It is a 2007 plate. I think newer models have the underfloor storage as the Ford Galaxy, S-Max, Sharan and Alhambra now all use the same platform 🙁
So Volker picked up the car and went to Babynest in Croydon and bought Rohan a new seat. We got Colin’s ERF seat there 2 years ago. The chap there is really great and fitted both the old seat and new seat for us. He advised us that ERF seats should not be fitted with underfloor storage compartments and was impressed with the space of the SEAT and the fact it didn’t have underfloor storage as he has turned away customers for this reason in the past. And this affected other models like Renault or Peugeot as well.
I know a time will come that Colin will grow out of his ERF seat. He is almost 17kg already. If he was forward-facing, by 18kg he would need to stop using his 5 point harness and use the 3 point seat belt to keep him safe. Children are generally 4 years old at this point, not 2.5 years! Providing he doesn’t grow too much in height (he is currently 97cm) he can remain rear-facing till 25kg in a 5 point harness. That keeps this mummy happy.
Just don’t get me started on winter coats in car seats ……….
If this is something you too feel strongly about please sign this epetition to the House of Commons to help raise awareness.
We hope this gives you some insights on the aspects of buying a safe rear facing car seat, and if you have any questions or would like to have some advice on the research we have done, please comment below.