Among the most often repeated justifications for changing the direction of a child restraint system from 'rear-facing' to 'forward-facing' is the potential for children to get carsick, and their apparent discomfort through having restricted legroom.
Although it is true that legroom is very reduced, especially as children get taller, child restraint systems designed to be rear-facing try to add extra centimeters compared to those that have not been specifically designed for the purpose. Nevertheless, the subject of car sickness is independent from the design of the CRS, although the direction they face in may have an influence.
Small children generally get car sick. It is referred to as motion sickness, the nausea that some people experience, especially children, when traveling by car, train, plane or even on fairground attractions or virtual reality simulators. The symptoms are very clear: nausea, cold sweats (and obviously a queasy feeling) that may provoke vomiting. It is possible to become car sick facing forwards or backwards, but it is true that the probabilities of it are greater when facing the rear.
The cause of motion sickness is very simple: the different movement signals registered by the body fight with or contradict each other. The nervous system 'reads' information provided by the different senses about our state of movement. Sight can tell you if you are at rest or in motion; the same with the musculoskeletal system and lastly the inner ear in turn feeds you information thanks to fluid inside it: if it moves, you are moving in some way, and if not, you are standing still.
If you read a book in a moving car, your eyes and musculoskeletal system indicate you are still, but your hearing is sending movement signals that confuse the brain and produce the symptoms of motion sickness. The most susceptible are small children between 2 and 12 years old, and one of the reasons is the fact they are not used to the typical movement of a car. Other frequent causes of car sickness are hypoglycemia, fear and stress.
Not all children get carsick and, furthermore, the symptoms may occur in adult life, but there are certain general guidelines to follow in order to minimize, as far as possible, the probability of car sickness:
- It is crucial to get children to look straight ahead to a distant point, and if possible, high up. This is exactly the same whether they are forward-facing or rear-facing and if they are unable to see directly out of the rear window they can look into the distance through a side window.
- Among the causes and catalysts of car sickness we can list: the heat inside the vehicle; poor digestion; lack of air renewal inside the vehicle; strong or unpleasant smells. It is advisable to stop quite often to rest and get some air if the child is prone to car sickness.
- As far as possible, avoid erratic driving with aggressive changes of direction, braking and accelerating. On secondary roads, drive as smoothly as possible, paying attention to any potential symptoms that are obvious from the look of the child's face.
- Car sickness can be caused through lack of adequate hydration. Small sips of cool water during the journey can help make you feel better.
- In the same way, rich or large meals that are slow to digest can cause discomfort during the journey.
- Keeping children entertained helps to combat car sickness or, seen from the other way round, boredom can produce car sickness. Even so, reading should be avoided.
Facing the rear, children can become carsick in the same way as facing forward, but with the added factor of not being able to see forward and have a visual appreciation of the direction the car is heading. This is one of the main ways to avoid car sickness, in that our sight informs us of our direction of travel in accordance with what our hearing registers, mitigating the negative effect of the body telling us that we are stationary.