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Rear Facing Car Seats

A new report advises that babies and toddlers should remain in rear-facing car seats as long as possible

Posted: 15 June 2009
by Laura Lee Davies

A new study, published in the British Medical Journal, claims that infants are safer in rear-facing car seats and, where possible, should remain in rear-facing seats until they are four years old.

Graco Launch Car Seat Selector
The doctors who have reached these conclusions have based their findings on the outcomes of babies and children involved in car accidents in Sweden and the US, where it is believed that there would have been less injury or fatality in cases where children were travelling in front-facing seats but could have been positioned rear-facing.
The report also flags up the fact that in children aged 0-23 months, in all kinds of car accident, rear-facing seats were a safer option, and there are now calls on shops to stock more rear-facing seats.

Infant carriers and car seats for older infants
According to UK car seat law, babies and children must be placed in a special infant carrier, child car seat or booster seat until they are aged 12 or taller than 1.35m.
All babies must travel in an infant carrier when travelling in a vehicle and when you are leaving hospital for the first time, the midwife team will not let you leave by car if you do not have a carrier.
Carriers can be placed (usually) in the front or back seat of your car and are positioned rear-facing. The exception may be if the front seat has an activated airbag, in which case the carrier must be placed in a back seat.
However, seats beyond infant carriers – ones referred to as Group 1 car seats – are used for babies once they grow out of infant carriers. Often this range of car seat (sometimes combined as a Group 1, 2, 3 seat which can be adjusted as your child grows) can be used as a forward- or rear-facing seat, and many parents opt to place their child forward-facing because it is more interesting for their toddler to see where they are going.
As we have advised on ThinkBaby before, and as this report suggests, where possible this is a preferable option for as long as possible.

Recaro Polaric car seat What should you do to keep your child safe?
A representative from RoSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) has pointed out that all standard car seats sold in the UK which meet EU safety standards are safe for use, so parents should not be overly alarmed. However, this might be a good to time to look at any infant car seats you have, and to check they are in good condition and that you are fitting them properly each time you travel. It's also worth looking at the website www.childcarseats.org.uk for useful tips and advice.

If you are buying a car seat now, think about options like the Recaro Polaric which are designed with rear-facing safety in mind. Ideally buy a car seat in a store rather than online, so that a shop assistant can check for you that the car seat you want fits your kind of car. Shops like Mothercare will do this for you.

Although the report claims that children up to 4 years would benefit from travelling rear-facing, this is not always an easy option. Once your child's legs hang over the edge of the seat, there will not be enough room for them to sit easily in a rear-facing position. Indeed, if we all travelled backwards on aeroplanes it would be safer too, but we do not do this because it does not feel like an enjoyable experience.
However, where possible, do keep your baby in a rear-facing seat as long as possible if your seat is designed to be fitted that way. Older babies and toddlers might find travelling backwards boring. In this case it's good to have an adult in the back with your baby to keep him amused. Or buy a stimulating baby travel toy which he can play with safely as you drive along.

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Discuss this story

the only problem i can see is the seats fitting in the cars!  the Recaro Polaric sits further back than a normal rear facing and we have enough trouble with our Britax first class taking up so much room in the back resulting in the front passenger sitting quite far forward, its not good when the adults in our family are both over 5'10!!!

my son is only 3 months old and already would prefer to face forward, of course we havent allowed this we just have to persevere with holding his hand or sitting in the back with him until he reaches the weight criteria.  he wants to know whats going on!  we tried everything from car toys to singing he's just far too nosey.

Posted: 16/06/2009 at 07:54

In Sweden or Norway children have to sit facing backwards until they are 4.5 years old, they are also the safest nations in europe for road safety.

Let's face it if a child is in a forward facing seat they can't see very much, how many times as an adult can we see much of what's going on if we are sat in the back. How uncomfortable does the front passenger have to be before it's worth a child's life to make them more comfortable?

I would recommend looking at the Britax website, they recommend only moving up to the next seat category when the child exceeds the weight or physically grows out of the seat. http://www.britax.co.uk/safety-centre/how-to-choose/ 

Sorry but I fit seats as part of my job and I see so many bad decisions when it comes to choosing child car seats for all the wrong reasons and it's too late once you are involved in a crash.

Good luck with entertaining your little one.

Posted: 22/06/2009 at 12:21

It's not about my comfort it's about fitting in the car!! If the seat is forward I can't physically get my legs in the car! Also of you read my post I said I'd never dream of changing his seat. The weight limit on seats is one of the things I'm most strict with.

Posted: 22/06/2009 at 13:01

People often talk about rear-facing seats in the context of a crash but it seems clear to me you don't even have to be in a crash for front facing seat to be dangerous for a baby or toddler.

Just imagine having to brake suddenly, when you have a baby facing forward. He/she would experience a massive forward momentum with nothing to stop his/her head. This kind of thing can cause neck strain/whiplash in an adult - so what must it do to a baby? Rear-facing seats need to be much more commonly available.

Posted: 22/08/2010 at 23:08

Talkback: Rear Facing Car Seats

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