Posted on 23rd Apr 2012 @ 16:04
I have just come across a new product that is estimated to reach the market sometime in 2013. It’s a new type of car seat containing an integral airbag which is designed to deploy in the event of accident. Based on the idea of a cocoon, the airbag deploys over the car seat in approximately 1/10 of a second, cocooning the baby or toddler inside. The design also protects the child from any flying debris in the car. This can be a common cause of injuries to children because when a car is involved in an accident, the vehicle may come to a sudden stop but any objects inside continue to travel at the pre impact speed.
Obviously, no-one can put a price on the life of their child, but the big drawback to the product is a price tag of £499. Considering the average seat covering the birth to age 4 range is about £180, it’s a big jump for most parents, especially when most people are feeling the pinch of a recession.
This seat however, is the latest rear facing car seat designed to be used potentially up to the age of 4 or 5. We have had our babies in rear facing car seats for many years as research has shown this is the safest way for them to travel. But what happens when they outgrow that first car seat? Most parents are keen to get their children into forward facing seats as soon as possible, and parents usually have very practical reasons for things. I can’t imagine my 3 year old being at all happy facing the back of the car (and I’m not sure where he would put his legs, though I’m sure designers have thought of this!). Even if he didn’t know any different, he wouldn’t be able to see his mum except maybe via a mirror, or see what his elder sister was doing, or easily get passed snacks, toys, books etc; all the things that parents have to juggle whilst transporting children from A to B.
However, there is practical evidence to promote the use of a rear facing car seat for longer. The most dangerous car accidents are frontal collisions, as the greatest forces are in play. We all remember seeing films of the crash test dummy flying through the windshield at relatively low speeds, and this was a vivid illustration to get us all to buckle up. The reasoning behind children being safer rear facing is that they have a much larger head in proportion to their bodies so a frontal impact exerts much greater force on their neck and spine than it would on an adult passenger. Additionally, when being flung against a harness with great force, children’s bones are soft as still developing and don’t afford the same protection to their internal organs as an adult.
There’s certainly a growing trend towards keeping children in rear facing seats for longer, and tests show that a child is indeed safer if rear facing. In Scandinavia, children stay rear facing until they reach 25 kilos (about 4-5 years old), and they have a lower number of child deaths in car accidents compared with other countries. I wouldn’t like to say whether that’s a result of rear facing car seats or any number of other reasons:- less traffic, safer roads, better driving?
Even with most safety organisations agreeing that children are safer rear facing as long as possible, there are only a few rear facing car seats available for the UK market (though all the major manufacturers make them for other European countries), and they have a price point of about £350, and can be used from birth to 18 kilos.
It is important though to remember that being unable to meet this cost does not make you a bad parent as the introduction of seatbelts, child car seats, airbags and generally safer cars mean that the family is much safer now than it has ever been before.
Figures from RoSPA, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, show that in 2009 the number of children aged 0-4 years who were killed as a car passenger was 5 with a further 81 seriously injured. As parents, we would love these numbers to fall to zero but it is important to remember that in general terms our roads are about eight times safer than 40 years ago, despite many more road users.
I have memories of travelling annually to France with my parents, my brother asleep across the rear foot wells, me across the back seat, surrounded by books, pillows and all manner of things needed for two weeks family camping. Normal for the time but not particularly safe! Attitudes towards child safety in cars have come a long way. New and innovative products are a good thing because the technology over time will improve standards across all products, and in another 40 years, the figures could be zero. Let’s hope so.