In Sweden they have defended the fitting of rear-facing CRS for almost fifty years. In the 60s, 1963 to be exact, Bertil Aldma, of Chalmers University in Gothenburg, designed the first rear-facing CRS based on the way the astronauts taking part in the Gemini mission were positioned. Professor Aldma noted how the astronauts were much better supported by distributing the enormous acceleration forces across their backs. He believed that the same could be applied in the case of children involved in a head-on collision.
We commented on the reasons for recommending rear-facing travel for children in articles such as The benefits to our children of always facing towards rear when traveling, due to, for example, the excellent protection afforded to the child's head, neck and spinal column in the event of a head-on collision (the majority).
In Sweden they put this theory into practice decades ago, and can now be proud to show the world a virtually non-existent child mortality rate except for extreme cases. For example, between 1992 and 1997, only nine children in a CRS fitted on the back seats of the car died in traffic accidents in Sweden, and all of them were involved in catastrophic accidents with serious damage to the vehicles and few survivors.
Since the 1960s, a special Swedish test has been applied, more restrictive than the official regulation, and aimed at ‘eliminating’ as far as possible those CRS that offer less protection in crashes when traveling facing the rear. It is called the ‘Plus Test’.
What is the Swedish ‘Plus Test’?
The Swedish ‘Plus Test’ is a voluntary test for manufacturers of child restraint systems. In Europe, all CRS must comply with either regulation ECE R 44 or regulation UN R 129, but any seat that passes the Plus Test transmits the confidence that they meet the most exacting requirements of either of the two regulations.
The process involves a series of special tests and measurements that give us an idea of just how demanding Sweden is in respect of minimum safety levels:
- They measure the stress levels (the force in Newtons) on the neck caused by a collision, almost always head-on, this being the most common variety.
- The acceptable limits for these impacts are extremely low.
- Only rear-facing Child Restraint Systems can pass this test.
- The crash test is carried out a maximum speed of 56.5 km/h.
- The crash happens at a level of energy much higher than the minimum demanded by the regulation.
In Sweden it is not compulsory to travel facing the rear
There is a widespread belief that parents in Sweden are legally obliged to ride with their children facing the rear for the longest possible time. It is a false belief in that it is not compulsory by law.
Nevertheless, in Sweden no-one contemplates transporting children in cars in any way other than rear-facing: it is simple and safe. It all comes down to an awareness-raising process that started over 50 years ago. It could be said that they are years ahead of the rest of Europe and, indeed, the whole world in general.
In this interview with Tommy Petterson, director of the crash test laboratory of the VTI (the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute), he explains everything:
We also recommend the article ‘What results are obtained by rear-facing child seats in side-impact crashes?’ and our infograph ‘All the information needed for traveling facing backwards’.