On 1 October 2015 a modification of the General Traffic Rules entered into force which required all minors under 135 cm tall to travel on a vehicle's rear seats, in a suitable child restraint system.
This regulation has three well-known exceptions: if the rear seats are already being used by other children in their own CRS; if it is not possible to install all the child seats needed on the rear seats; if the vehicle is a two-seater. Generally speaking, if a CRS can be installed on the rear seats we must put our children in them.
Knowing that it is compulsory to do so, we might ask ourselves whether it really is safer for children to travel on the rear seats.
Research has shown that it is safer for them to sit on the rear seats
People often do not intuitively know that the rear seats are safer than the front ones. Simply not being able to keep as close an eye on the child, especially if we are dealing with young babies or newborns, can be stressful or concerning for a lot of parents.
Furthermore, very young children should be seated in a rear-facing position, making it even more difficult to check on the child in such circumstances.
Nevertheless, there is plenty of scientific evidence on the safety of rear seats for children and also for the elderly. A study entitled “Rear seat safety: Variation in protection by occupant, crash and vehicle characteristics”, published in 2015, reveals that children under the age of nine are more protected on the rear seat than the front seat.
Moreover, the relative risk of death in children under the age of nine who travel correctly secured in a CRS is significantly lower when traveling on the rear seats than the front ones. It is only once the child is over the age of nine that we see a similar relative risk in any position inside the vehicle.
This information should not lead us to deceive ourselves. Children around 9 years old have an average height close to the height established by the legislation, i.e. 135cm. In fact, if we look at the percentage tables based on the average height of children in Spain (the 50th percentile), we see that nine year old male children measure, on average, 131.71cm while female children measure 132.4cm on average.
By 10 years old, the majority of children will be taller than the height stipulated by the legislation and they may therefore travel in the passenger seat, despite the fact that it is still advisable for them to travel on the rear seats and to use a CRS until they are 150cm tall. We recommend our article entitled 'When should we take the definitive step of using a seat belt?’.