Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Safety that is back to front

It’s time Australia looked forward by facing their children back

My littlest one is 11 months old this week and my husband asked me when I was going to turn her car seat around to face the front.
The truth is that I haven’t set a date or age for turning her around, as I know she is safer in a rearward facing seat.
And I’m not the only parent who feels this way. There are a growing number of parents who have done their research, and realised that the longer a child is facing the back, the safer they are in the event of an accident.
Professor Lotta Jakobsson works as a biomechanist and child safety expert for Volvo in Sweden and was in Australia last month promoting the benefits of rear-facing safety seats for children under the age of four.
“The recommendations for Swedish kids, since way back in the sixties, is rearward facing since the age of four,” she said in an interview on ABC Radio National’s Life Matters program.
“It’s actually very good in Australia that your new regulation allows children to travel rearward facing up to the age of four, but as far as I know there are no seats for kids older than 12 months to rearward face and that’s a problem.”
In Sweden (which has a population of nine million), four children have died in rearward facing seats since 1964, in frontal impact accidents, and Prof Jakobsson said it proves that they have a “very robust and safe system”.
In Australia, about 70 children are killed and 1900 injured in road accidents each year.

“When you think of Astronauts going into space, they travel rearward facing, because you will distribute the forces over the back and the head, and that would be the case in a frontal impact for kids in the rearward facing seats as well,” Prof Jakobsson said.
“By facing forward you will retain the body by the seatbelt, but the head will not be supported, so you put all the force through the neck.
“For a newborn, the head is almost half their weight, and when you turn three it can be a fifth of your mass, while for adults it’s about one-20th.
“Age and stature are the most important factors. With the stature, the proportions of the head mass get less, and by the age, the neck gets more developed - the ligaments and bones get stronger as you grow, and an adult’s neck is five times more stronger than a three-year-olds.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children remain in rear-facing restraints until the age of two, as infants in forward-facing seats are 75 per cent more likely to die or suffer severe injuries in a crash.
However, parents in Australia often turn their babies around to forward-facing child restraints by the age of six months.
Many parents object to leaving their children rearward facing because they like to be able to see their children, and also because many kids hate facing the back.
“When you’re raising kids there are many things they don’t want to do, and this may be one of them,” Jakobsson said. “But (in Sweden) we just tell them that this is the safest way and they have to do it. We have mirrors to monitor them and see that they’re doing alright.”
The International Organisation for Standardisation Working Group on Child Restraint Systems says they recommend ISOfix which is an international standard for fixation of child restraints. In the US it’s called LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children).
But this is not currently available in Australia.
ISOfix attachment points are manufactured into cars, enabling compliant child safety seats to be quickly and safely secured.
It is an alternative to securing the seat with seat belts, and also dramatically reduces the chance of fitting the seat incorrectly.
Most imported cars in Australia have the ISOfix anchorage points already in them, but the seats sold in Australia also require the attachments and this is where the problem lies (plus the fact that our law states it is illegal to use the ISOfix system in Australia).
Despite Australia lagging behind in terms of safe anchorage of child car seats, in March last year new laws were introduced to further protect children.
The main addition to the law is that all children up to seven years of age (or if their eye level is above the back of the booster seat) must be secured in a child restraint.
Children may legally ride in the front of a motor vehicle if they are correctly restrained but it is not recommended for children under the age of 12.
Airbags are designed to cushion adults in an accident, deploying at 320km/h to an adult’s chest height, so you can imagine the impact it would have on a small child.
“If you have an airbag you should not have a child in the front seat, unless the child is 140cm tall, because you can get the wrong interaction with the airbag if it is deployed,” Prof Jakobsson said.
The current law states that if the car has one row of seats (eg. a ute), a child of any age can sit in the front seat if they are properly restrained. If the vehicle has a passenger airbag fitted, a rearward facing child restraint should not be used.
Where there are two or more rows of seats, a child under four years of age cannot sit in the front seat of a vehicle, even if they are large enough to sit in a booster seat. A child aged between four and seven cannot sit in the front seat of a vehicle unless all the other seats are occupied by children under seven years of age.
Prof Jakobsson said Australia does have room for improvement when it comes to child safety.
“Besides the fact you turn the kids too early to forward facing, Australia does have very good regulations and kids are overall travelling very safe,” she said.
Prof Jakobsson urged Australian authorities to strengthen regulations that let parents opt for forward-facing restraints far too early.
Both Britax (Safe-n-Sound) and Maxi Cosi make rear facing seats for older children for the Scandinavian market, and these include modifications for leg room.
The problem in Australia is that it’s very expensive and time-consuming to have a car seat certified by Standards Australia.
Until there is a huge demand for these products, and further pressure from parents on Standards Australia to introduce ISOfix, it’s unlikely that we will see them available here in the near future.
For information on car seat safety go to or for details about the current law visit

If you'd like to campaign for change in Australia, you can join up with this facebook group:


Jill said...


When are you posting today's 'book' Cairns Post article?
I always read it and would love to discuss as per the end of the article prompt!

Do you have to wait a certain time after publication before you post it here?

I'm just nosy!!

Shannon said...

Oops!!! Sorry Jill... meant to get it up today, but the original copy is on file at work so it won't be up till Monday. Blame baby brain!

Thanks for reading!

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