We all know that rear facing car seats are safest for newborns, and the UK government now advise that all babies should be kept rear facing until they are at least 15 months old. This means that 15 months is the absolute minimum age a child should be turned to forward face, but many parents misunderstand this to mean that once a child is 15 months a forward facing seat is just as safe if not safer. The fact is even after your baby reaches 15 months, rear facing remains safer.
Obviously the safest way for any child to travel is in a correctly fitted car seat in good condition that is suitable for the child’s height and weight. Car seats save lives and I like to think we live in an age where the safety of our children is paramount and no one would dream of getting in a vehicle with a child not properly restrained.
However research has found that not all car seats were created equal. With so much choice and conflicting information out there, it can be a minefield deciding which car seat to move onto once your baby outgrows their infant seat.
www.childseats.org.uk a site produced with the support of the department of transport state that “rearward facing seats provide greater protection to the baby’s head, neck and spine than forward facing seats, so it is better to keep them in a rear facing seat as long as possible”
Nobody expects to be in a serious road accident, but they do happen far too often and high speed head-on collisions pose the biggest risk of severe and fatal injuries. Technically it would be safer for all passengers to be rear facing in the event of an accident, but that’s currently not practical in today’s cars. Children’s spines and necks are much less developed than an adults and are much more vulnerable in a car accident. The force that a child’s neck experiences in an accident can cause stretching or in more serious cases tearing of the spinal cord.
In a high speed head-on collision a baby will be flung violently forward with only their harness to keep them in place. Huge amounts of pressure are put on the head, neck and internal organs. Crash tests have shown that up to 320kg of pressure is placed on a child’s neck.
In comparison a child in a rearward facing car seat during a head-on collision is flung backwards into the plastic shell and padding of their car seat. The majority of the pressure is absorbed by the seat and distributed across the strongest part of the child – their back. In a rear facing seat the pressure on a child’s neck during a head-on collision was found to be about 50kg.
One of the most common arguments against extended read facing (ERF) is that the child’s legs can look cramped and uncomfortable, but children are much more flexible than adults and my two year has never complained about his legs being crossed during a journey. While many people believe that RF increases a child’s risk of broken legs research has shown the opposite, in fact a broken leg is more likely when a child is seated in a forward facing seat during an accident. It would appear the most common injury to children in RF seats is broken arms. I’m sure you’ll agree a broken arm is far preferable to a broken neck.
2009 research conducted by the baby products association found that rear facing car seats offer up to 75% more protection to your child in an accident.
Advocates of rear facing car seats claim that a child is dramatically less likely to suffer severe or fatal injuries whilst traveling in a rear facing seat, these claims are supported by statistics from Scandinavian countries such as Sweden and Norway.
Sweden have set the benchmark when it comes to car seat safety, mainly due to their “vision zero” policy which promotes safer roads, safer driving and better investment in public road safety education. In Sweden it is common practice for children to ride rear facing until the age of four. The Swedes are well aware that ERF is safer, and the data speaks for itself. Although statistics for child road accident fatalities in both Sweden and the UK are similar for children under the age of one, once a UK child reaches the age of 12 months they are almost twice as likely to die when involved in a car accident as their Swedish counterparts.
Norway have taken a leaf from their Scandinavian neighbours book and followed suit in promoting ERF with over 50% of Norway’s under 3s travelling rear facing as of 2016. This change to rear facing has been credited with the fact that not one single Norwegian child died in a car crash in 2015!
In a report from February 2018 The European Transport Safety Council recommended multiple times that all European countries should make rear facing car seats mandatory until the age of 4 as “more children under the age of four would survive collisions”.
So it may seem odd that the European standard test for the safety of car seats (ECE R44 & R129) regularly passes forward facing car seats as safe to be sold on the market. The truth is that these tests do not measure the forces put upon a child’s head and neck in an accident, they currently only measure the forces on the child’s chest, which is similar in both FF and RF seats. Sweden has been asking for these tests to measure neck loads because these are the injuries that statistics suggest are more likely to result in loss of life.
To make up for this Sweden have developed one of the toughest and most rigorous safety tests for child restraint systems, which often leaves car seats and crash test dummies in ruins due to the stringent testing parameters in place.
The Swedish plus test is the gold standard in child seat safety, it was developed through collaboration between the Swedish national society for road safety, the Swedish standard institute, Folksam a Swedish insurance company, and the VTI (the Swedish national road and transport research institute.) it is a voluntary test that Swedish child restraint manufacturers can submit their car seats too in addition to the mandatory safety tests. There are three main differences between the plus test and current regulatory tests, these are;
- The plus test uses much higher speeds than the current European standard test (ECE R44 & R129).
- The plus test uses shorter braking distances, resulting in a greater force of impact.
- The test measures the loads put on a child’s neck and head during these terrible collisions, this is done by placing sensors on the crash dummies necks.
Because of the high standard of neck protection the pass test requires no forward facing car seat has passed. The list of car seats that have passed currently only stands at 14. These 14 car seats are considered to be the safest car seat on the market.
The max way plus
Knowing all this I always planned on keeping Tom rear facing for as long as possible, when he outgrew his infant car seat we did a little research and chose to go with the Joie Tilt, which rear faces to 18kg (approx. 4 years). The Tilt is one of the most popular and affordable ERF car seats on the market at just £70 and I assumed this would last us until Tom was around 4 when his spine and neck would be stronger and better developed. Unfortunately I didn’t factor in the fact that my child is obviously a giant and has already reached the weight limit for the tilt at just 2 and a half!
So I started looking around for another ERF car seat suitable for a child over 18kg and quickly realised that they are quite rare and extremely expensive in most cases. There are only a handful of manufacturers selling ERF seats suitable for children over 18kg, I thought this surprising considering the arguments I’ve previously mentioned.
Britax stood out for me as a manufacturer offering one of the greatest selections of ERF seats, and while many well-known brands only offer forward facing from 18kg+ Britax have a few Options for children over 18kg including the multi tech, the max way and the max way plus, all of which have passed the Swedish plus test, and the two way elite which is a great budget option.
Because ERF seats tend to be larger and more complex to install, it’s important to check the vehicle compatibility list usually found on the manufacturer’s website, this will tell you if the seat you’re interested in will actually fit in your car.
The max way plus was the only ERF offering from Britax that was approved for use in our 2013 Vauxhall Zafira so this was the seat we went for.
Like I mentioned ERF seats can be tricky to install, especially if like the max way they are fitted with a seatbelt rather than isofix.
As well as securing the seat with a seat belt, the max plus features a prop leg, to reduce rotation of the seat and tether straps that attach to the seat in front to stabilise the seat. This may mean that it’s more time consuming to take the seat in and out and swap it between cars, but as far as I’m concerned this inconvenience is worth it for one of the safest car seats on the market. The website does include links to easy to follow installation guides and YouTube tutorials if you get stuck.
The Max way is suitable for children from 9kg to 25kg (approximately 9 months to 6 years and because of this is fully adjustable, both the headrest and the straps can be moved upwards depending on the height of the child and the angle of recline can be adjusted for personal preference.
The seat also features increased safety in the event of a side impact, with SICT (side impact cushion technology). This reduces the distance between the seat and side of the car – and absorbs energy during a crash.
The car seat itself feels very well padded and sturdy, Thomas fits very comfortably inside and had plenty of leg room to cross or uncross his little legs. He also happier that he is more upright in his new seat and higher up than he was in the joie tilt – meaning he has a better view out of the window. We’ve been using the Max Way for a few weeks now and we are impressed with how well made and comfortable it is, I’m confident that this seat will last even a giant like Tom a few years yet, before he outgrows it and we need to think about a High back booster seat.
I know this has all been a lot of information, but the main point I want you to be thinking about it that rear facing shouldn’t be a choice you make based upon your parenting style or your opinions. It’s based on scientific facts and the results from years of study and rigorous testing. Do a little research, I’m sure like me you will stumble across numerous stories detailing the horrific injuries sustained by children in forward facing seats. You won’t find anyone claiming that forward facing is safer, just that it’s more convenient. Maybe you will remember this article when your baby grows out of their infant seat and decide that convenience is a small price to pay for the safety of your child.
I’ve included a few links below worth a click if you’re interested in more info