Rear facing for longer - the research and the recommendations
Over the past decade widespread research has shown that rear-facing a child in their restraint is five times safer for babies and small children than forward facing.
So why is it so much safer?
It’s largely to do with a child’s growing body and skeletal vulnerabilities. Babies’ heads are typically 25% of their body weight which makes them very ‘top heavy’.
Further, the skeleton of a young child is soft and still developing. This ‘top heaviness’ and skeletal softness means they are far more susceptible to injury in a crash, particularly head, neck and spinal injuries.
By far the most dangerous car accidents are frontal collisions. They are the accidents with the highest speeds and the greatest forces. In a frontal collision, the child is flung forward at enormous force, and caught by the harness. This puts extreme stress on the child’s neck, the spine, and the internal organs.
If a child is in a rear facing child restraint they are flung into the back of the seat and the force of impact is distributed across the whole seat. The neck, spine and internal organs are not subjected to anything like the full impact.
I’ll never forget an interview I held several years ago with the mother of a 20 month old who was in a car which was involved in a serious crash. Her car seat was forward facing and the force of the crash almost had her ‘internally decapitated’ (her mother’s words and a horrific thought!) The little girl now faces years of treatment for her serious spinal and neck injuries.
Scandinavian children are rear facing until they are 4–5 years old, which has resulted in a much lower number of children injured or dead in car accidents compared with other countries. Typically in societies where rear facing is normalised children accept it as how they travel in cars and death and injury rates are much lower.
At Parents Centre we know rear-facing is the safest way for a child to travel - but don't take our word for it, do your own research!
There are many websites with great information about the benefits of rear-facing, see the links below.
www.plunket.org.nz/your-child/safety/car-safety/stage-1-rear-facing-car-seats - questions and answers section. Plunket recommends rear facing until at least 2 years of age.
Do you want to see what the international experts say? Search these websites below:
American Academy of Pediatrics - www.aap.org
British Medical Journal - www.bmj.com
Further information about approved standards for child restraints and a list of certified child restraint technicians who can provide advice and installation can be found at: www.nzta.govt.nz/childrestraints
Article by Eleanor Cater, Brand Manager, for Kiwiparent Magazine, April 2014