Concerns regarding the placement of children’s legs when rear facing are around comfort and safety.
A popular sitting position for children is to sit cross-legged, in particular when sitting on the floor. This is the position many kids rear facing will adopt as it is comfortable for them and is a natural sitting position. Other positions include kicking their legs over the side of the seat or having their legs straight out. Children are much more flexible than adults as their skeletons are still largely made of cartilage, so what looks awkward to us is not to them. In fact some children are so comfortable rear facing that, when they are moved to a forward facing seat as an older child, they complain that they don’t like the feeling of their legs dangling over the side. With regards to children's feet and legs touching the vehicle seat when rear facing, safety experts agree that it's safe for legs to touch the opposite vehicle seat so this is not an safety concern.
Why are children’s legs also safer rear facing? Contrary to popular belief, analysis of the data on child injury shows that there are actually more injuries to children’s lower extremities (legs) in forward-facing seats than in rear-facing seats since the legs are free to fly forward and strike the car/vehicle interior or dashboard. Leg injuries account for 28% of significant injuries faced by forward-facing children in crashes (Jermakian, J.S., et al. “ Lower Extremity Injuries in Children Seated in Forward Facing Child Restraint Systems. ” Traffic Injury Prevention 8 (2007): 171-179.).According to Benjamin Hoffman, a Professor of Pediatrics at Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine in Portland and a child injury prevention specialist, arms and legs are almost never injured when rear-facing. In any crash severe enough to cause broken legs, there would also be great potential for head, neck and spine injuries. So it's a matter of choosing to protect the most important parts. It's much easier to fix a broken leg than a broken neck, for example.
‘Broken leg, cast it; broken neck, casket’
Turning children forward facing has been typically seen as another milestone for a child, where the child is now seen as “big” enough to be forward facing. The RSA(Road Safety Authority) states that some parents think that children should progress to a forward-facing child car seat as soon as they have outgrown their rearward-facing baby seat. This is not the case. For the most protection, the RSA recommends that your child should remain rear-facing for as long as possible.
Rear Facing is aiming to inform parents of the new regulation (R129) that requires mandatory rear facing to 15 months in i-Size seats and the safety benefits of extended rear facing up to 6 years of age.
The forces exerted in a front impact crash are different and much greater than a rear impact crash. Frontal crashes usually involve vehicles and all the occupants coming to a complete stop very quickly. In a rear impact crash, the vehicles are travelling in the same direction and the vehicle that is hit in the back has room to move forward and the crash forces on the occupants are much less. Rear impact crashes are somewhat more common in cities, high density areas and in stop and go traffic. However these are typically low speed and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety states that rear impact crashes generally occur as 8 or 16 km/hour fender benders. As a result they are not often severe or fatal collisions. The American National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates that rear-end collisions account for just 9 percent of injuries to children in car seats. In comparison, front-end collisions account for about 43 percent and side-impact crashes account for about 33 percent of injuries.
The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center conducted a study to explore the effectiveness of rear-facing car seats in rear-impact collisions. The results, published in April 2018, found that the rear facing child seat kept the head, neck, and spine aligned by staying with the child. Additionally, a lot of the crash energy was absorbed through the car seat interacting with the vehicle seat, so that reduced the amount of energy transferred into the child occupant, which is important for preventing injuries.
“The rear-facing seat is able to support the child’s head, neck and spine and keep those really vulnerable body regions well protected. These regions are especially vulnerable in the newborns and younger children whose spine and vertebrae haven’t fused and fully developed yet.”
By law in Ireland all children under 150cms in height or 36kgs (79lbs) in weight must use a child restraint system (CRS) suitable for their height and weight while travelling in a car or goods vehicle (other than a taxi). An example of a CRS would be a child car seat or booster cushion.
Regulation R129 (also known as i-Size) came into effect in Ireland in September 2014. R129 does not replace the previous ECE Regulation R44/03/04, both will run alongside each other until ECE R44/03/04 is completely phased out. One of the key objectives for R129 is the better protection for the developing head and neck of babies and toddlers through mandatory rearward facing installation until the age of 15 months.
Other key objectives of R129:
- Improved child safety due to the introduction of mandatory side impact protection for all new seats.
- New generation dummies which more closely represent actual behaviour of real children.
- ISOFIX only installation to lower risk of seats being incorrectly fitted.
- A simplified guide to choosing the right seat for the child, by using the height of the child as the only guideline.
- Improved compatibility, as i‐Size car seats will fit in all i‐Size seating positions and almost in all cars with ISOFIX.
What is ISOFIX?
ISOFIX is the international standard of built-in attachment points in a car’s structure to fit a child seat. The ISOFIX system provides a rigid, permanent connection between the child car seat and the car chassis, so if you brake sharply or have an accident, less force will impact on your child. A child seat can easily be plugged into the ISOFIX system, without the need to install using the car seat belt. This greatly reduces the risk of fitting the seat incorrectly with 94% of parents using ISOFIX correctly.
Rear Facing Baby Seat
0 - 10kg (22 lbs)
0 - 13kg (29 lbs)
i-Size (based on height rather than weight)
Birth to 105cm
Combination seat (Rear-facing and Forward-facing)
Group 0+ and 1
0-18 kg (40 lbs)
Group 0+, 1 & 2
Birth to 25 kg (55 lbs)
Forward-facing car seat
9 - 18 kg (20 - 40 lbs)
Group 1, 2 and 3
9 - 36 kg (20 - 79 lbs)
100 - 135cm
Specific vehicles 135 - 150cm
High-backed Booster Seat
15 - 25 kg (33 - 55 lbs)
High-backed Booster Seat
Group 2 and 3
15 - 36 kg (33 - 79 lbs)
Booster Cushion (From 9th February 2017)
22 - 36 kg (48 - 79 lbs) and 125cm or taller
15-36kg These seats will ultimately be phased out as manufacturers comply with the new regulation.
The below car seats crash tests are required to gain the relevant regulation approval.
ECE R44 04 crash test:
- Frontal collision testing at a speed of 50km/h
- Rear impact collision testing at 30km/h.
- In Supplement 16 of R44 04 the seat is also subjected to a rollover test.
- Uses the P-dummy family
New R129 UN Regulation crash test:
- Frontal collisions testing at a speed of 55km/h
- Rear impact collision testing at 30km/h. The seat is also subjected to a rollover test.
- Dynamic test for side impact (new under this regulation)
- Uses the new Q-Dummies series, which more closely represent the actual effects of a crash on the body of real children.
Additional Tests that can be conducted that are more stringent than the Regulation Approval Tests
ADAC is an organization representing the interests of car owners in Germany and is the central testing facility of the European automobile clubs and one of only a handful of test centres accredited by Euro NCAP (New Car Assessment Program).
Stiftung Warentest is an independent company and Germany’s leading consumer testing organization. It does not accept any advertising and is partly public funded to ensure its independence. Each year Stiftung Warentest performs child car seat tests together with ADAC. These tests are conducted on behalf of the European Test Centre (formerly the International Consumer Research and Testing organisation). The results of the test are then published by consumer organisations in each country, for example “Råd och Rön” in Sweden and “Which?” in the United Kingdom. The scores in these test results are not based only on the car seat safety results. The scores are split with 50% for car seat safety results and 50% for evaluations of aspects such as user-friendliness, risk of misuse, comfort for the child, quality of the cover, craftsmanship, space in the car, the user manual, how easy cleaning is etc.
Therefore when reading Which? reports or similar consumer company reports it is important to look beyond which seat is listed as a “Best Buy” or “Don’t Buy” to the actual crash test results. Also some rear facing seats are tested as front facing, so due to the incorrect installation the test results are not accurate.
- Frontal collision testing at a speed of 64km/h
- Side impact collision impacts at a speed of 50km/h
- Impact loads are measured on differently sized child dummies.
The Swedish Plus Test is a voluntary test by VTI, the National Road and Transport Research Institute, on car seats intended for the Swedish market. This test is conducted in addition to the mandatory testing and approval governed by the ECE Regulations and is not carried out anywhere else in Europe.
In a Plus Test, the forces subjected to a child's neck in a frontal collision are measured. A Plus tested car seat ensures that your child is not exposed to life-threatening high neck forces in a frontal collision. According to Axkid there are three main factors that make the Plus Test hard to pass, with many car seats ending up in ruins in the test.
- Higher speed than normal compared to the speed used by our European standards ECE R44 and R129, also called “i-Size”.
- Very short braking distance, which makes the impact on the car seat brutal, the shorter the braking distance, the more violent the forces become.
- To make the Plus Test even more difficult, you not only use higher speed and shorter braking distance but also carefully measure the forces in crash test dummy’s neck with sensors.
A visit to the VTI facility by representatives of mypram.com describes the results of the neck load in both a forward facing and rear facing car seat in a frontal crash. The permissible load is 1220 Newton in the Plus Test and the forward facing seat had a maximum neck load of 1852 Newton, which exceeded the permissible load. The rear facing seat had a maximum neck load of 394 Newton and is well below the permissible load limit. Therefore forward facing car seats will not have any chance to pass the Plus Test as the neck forces are too high and it is not possible to guarantee that the child is not exposed to life threatening high neck forces.