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Rear-facing Day Why is it so important for children to travel in rear-facing child car seats?

Día de la Contramarcha: ¿Por qué es importante que los niños viajen en sillitas mirando hacia atrás?

11/03/2019

The Swedish Embassy in Madrid chose 18 October 2018 for the ‘1st Rear-facing Day’ in Spain. This was a one-day educational conference which brought together experts in the field and dealt with the main theme of the importance of children traveling in rear-facing seats in automobiles with a suitable child restraint system. 

It is not currently compulsory for children to travel in a rear-facing position in Spain. Only child seats in Groups 0 and 0+ are rear-facing (R44-04). Furthermore, they should be traveling in this position up to 15 months old if they are using child restraint systems approved under the R-129 (i-Size) standard.

This conference highlighted the fact that the risk of death or injury in a crash increases by a factor of 5 for children traveling facing forwards in comparison with children seated in a rear-facing position

MOVING TOWARDS THE SWEDISH MODEL

Sweden has already come a long way (take a look at the Swedish legislation here). Tommy Petersson, Manager of the VTI Crash Lab and Head of the Plus Test, was one of the professionals taking part in the conference. “The main difference between traveling in a forward-facing and rear-facing position is that there is complete support for the back, spine and head and when traveling in a forward-facing position there is not, therefore the neck receives a severe impact in a head-on collision”, highlighted Petersson. 

The Plus Test is extremely strict. Petersson pointed out that “It is carried out at high speeds but the most important factor is that it has a very short braking distance which means that the forces exerted on the child car seat and the dummy are very high”. 

The expert went on to explain that there are three reasons why Sweden is so committed to rear-facing child seats: the results of the test, the child's anatomy and the facts at hand. In fact, he explained that it all began back in the 1960s when Doctor Altman, a professor at Chalmers University in Gothenburg, noticed how astronauts were traveling in rockets. They carried out a lot of research during the 1960s and the results were crystal clear: “Rear-facing child car seats are far superior”. 

In Sweden, they have used the ‘T-Approval’ since 1975. As Petersson explained, they put the limit for passing the test just above that of rear-facing child car seats, therefore it was impossible for a forward-facing child seat to pass the text successfully. “It was completely impossible for a forward-facing CRS to pass the test”, highlighted Petersson. Therefore, parents had no other option than to purchase rear-facing child car seats as they were the only seats that had passed the tests.  

Towards the end of the 1980s the first European legislation, UN 44, was drafted, although it did not cover head injuries, which was, however, included in the Swedish T-Approval. This is why Sweden has had dual approval since 2008. “The main reason for this is because the T-Approval checks certain aspects while the 44 standard focuses on others. Therefore, if the seat has both approvals it means that it is a good child car seat”, pointed out Petersson.

As EU members, in 2008 they were asked to lower their quality standards. This is how the Plus Test started back in 2009. It was a modernization of the T-Approval which concentrates more on the forces exerted on the neck. It is a voluntary test. This was how Sweden resolved this problem. “If a seat has passed the Plus Test it is a very good CRS which has taken into account the force of an impact on the neck”.

DISABLING THE PASSENGER SEAT AIRBAG

Helena Stigson, Road Safety Researcher and Professor at Folksam and Chalmers, discussed the minor crisis Sweden faced when a child died while seated in a rear-facing child seat in the front passenger seat. 

Between 1990 and 1995 Euro NCAP started to carry out crash tests and all vehicles began putting airbags in the front passenger seat. In Germany a child died due to the airbag inflating when traveling in a rear-facing position. There were also several cases of this in the United States. The matter was investigated and it was shown that airbags completely crushed the child which led to the number of children traveling in a rear-facing position going down.

Faced with this, Stigson pointed out that their response was to spread the message that children should travel in a rear-facing position up to 4-5 years old while also working jointly on raising public awareness of the importance of disabling the front passenger airbag if the child is traveling in a rear-facing child car seat.

She also stressed that factors such as a concern about space for the child's legs or the backrest not being high enough often mean that parents decide to switch to a forward-facing CRS too soon.

IT TAKES BETWEEN 2 AND 3 YEARS TO DEVELOP A CRS

Armando Bastida, a pediatric nurse, discussed the issue of the price of the seat. He pointed out that a child car seat which has undergone a lot of work will be more expensive than one which has not. 

Daniel Lundgren, Head of Safety and Regulations at Axkid, explained that from the moment of coming up with the idea to the point where the product is made can take between 2 to 3 years, depending on the complexity of the child restraint system. In addition, once the product has been produced it will undergo between 60 and 70 physical tests in different laboratories and will be subject to approval tests.

PROMOTING A MORE WIDESPREAD USE OF REAR-FACING CHILD CAR SEATS

When Marta Gil, Physiotherapist,  took the floor, she explained that the reason why the same accident affects an adult in a different way to a child is largely due to the significant anatomical differences between the two. An adult's head is around 6-8% of their total body weight. However, a child's head can account for up to 25% of their total body weight. “An accident which could cause whiplash in an adult could cause serious injuries in a child”, she added. 

“While there are no official recommendations, it is very difficult to change a well-established culture. If the risk is five times higher, why is it not compulsory?”, questioned Lucía Galán (from Lucía mi pediatra) during her participation in the event. In fact, the pediatician asked a total of 153 parents in her surgery about this very issue. 100% of children under 1 years old travel in a rear-facing position, while only 20% continue to do so when they are between 1 and 3 years old. We would also highlight that only one 4-year-old child still travels in a rear-facing position.

Juana Zurita, a pediatric and spinal cord injury nurse at the Hospital Nacional de Parapléjicos de Toledo, explained that in terms of spinal cord injuries in children, there is a very high spike in cases of children between 3 and 5 years old which are, above all, down to road traffic accidents. She highlighted that this could be prevented with rear-facing child car seats.

We are fully committed to ‘Goal Zero’, at Fundación MAPFRE and recommend using rear-facing child restraint systems up to 4 years old as a minimum, and, providing that the physical condition of the child allows for it, for as long as possible. We explain their advantages in this infographic:

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