Rear-facing car seats explained

Confused about the rear-facing car seat debate? Are they safer? Are there any drawbacks? Here's all you need to know

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In the UK, you have to use a rear-facing car seat for your baby from birth until they’re at least 9kg in weight, according to the law (regulation ECE R44/04).

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However, sitting your little one in the rear-facing position for longer offers greater protection to the under-developed head, neck and spine of very young children, especially in a head-on crash.  So you shouldn’t rush to move on to a forward-facing car seat.

That’s why there has been an introduction of a new law recently that requires all parents to sit their children rear-facing until at least 15 months.

While the new European safety standard, called i-size, wont replace the current law (ECE R44/04) until 2018, it means that many parents and manufacturers are gearing up for rear-facing for longer chairs.

Most of the older rear-facing Group 0+ car seats are suitable for babies from birth up to 13kg.  But there is a growing trend of rear-facing for longer seats on the market already, so there’s no need to move your baby on to a forward-facing choice until they reach 15 months and for some they can sit rear-facing up to 5 years.

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Are rear-facing car seats the safer option?

Research in 2009 by the Baby Products Association (BPA) showed that rear-facing car seats are much safer and can offer up to 75% more protection if you and your child are involved in an accident.

This is because the most dangerous car accidents are frontal collisions (head-ons). They represent the accidents where the highest speeds and the greatest forces are at play.

When your child is forward-facing and a frontal collision occurs, they get flung forward in the seat, being caught by the harness. This puts pressure on their neck, spine and internal organs.

Their neck is completely unprotected when their head is catapulted forward. This means that it is vulnerable to the great force it’s being subjected to.

In a rear-facing car seat, your child is flung into the back of the seat and the force of impact is distributed along the whole back of the seat.

Their neck, spine and internal organs aren’t subjected to the stress of the force and are much more protected. In a forward-facing seat the neck is subjected to a force equivalent to 300kg-320kg, while in a rear-facing seat, the force on the neck is equivalent to 50kg.

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However, if your child has a forward-facing car seat, there’s no need to panic! Forward-facing seats have passed the same set of safety tests as rear facing ones and still offer a good level of protection for your toddler or child. As with all car seats, the key is making sure you’ve fitted the seat correctly and your baby is secure.

Are there any disadvantages to rear-facing car seats?

If your child is facing in a different direction to everyone else in the car, you may find it less easy to include him or her in the family conversation and it’s not as easy to use your rearview mirror to spot things, such as your child falling asleep.

It’s also possible that, depending on the make of your car, an older child in a rear-facing car seat may find he or she has to sit with legs quite bent, but it’s worth remembering that car seats are measured by children’s weight and height.

They become too big for a car seat only when they exceed the maximum weight for that seat or top of their head is higher than the top of the seat.

It doesn’t matter much if a baby’s feet dangle over the end of the seat, or in a rear-facing seat, if a child’s legs are bent. they should still be comfortable.

Others may simply get bored of facing a sear, rather than the road ahead – although some rear-facing car seats are nicely high enough to afford a good view through the side and rear windows.

In a nutshell…

Rearward-facing travel is safer.   The longer you can keep your little one rear-facing the better, because rear-facing car seats can offer up to 75% more protection if your child are involved in a car accident.

It’s also worth remembering that the extra safety of travelling backwards doesn’t just apply to children. It applies to us adults, too, on all forms of transport.

So next time you book a train ticket, make sure you bag those rear-facing seats!

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Here’s some more car seat safety information and car seats to compare…

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