Millions of parents in the UK could be inadvertently putting their children at risk because of confusion over car seats, suggests new research commissioned by Volvo Car UK.

In the UK, official guidance recommends that children remain in a rear-facing seat until they are 13kg, or around 9 months old. However, in Sweden this change is typically postponed until up to 4 years of age.

Evidence suggests that babies and young children in a forward-facing car seat are up to five times more likely to die or suffer a serious brain or spinal injury than those in a rear-facing seat.

Under fours are such fragile passengers due to the weight of their heads (up to 25% of their total body weight), which makes them too heavy to be fully supported by their still-developing neck muscles and bones. This makes them more susceptible than adults and older children to head and neck injuries, including fractures and brain damage.

During frontal collisions – the most common type – if a child is in a forward-facing car seat their neck will be subjected to very high and concentrated forces. In a rear-facing seat, these forces are lessened because the impacts is distributed over the whole of the child’s back and head.

In 2013 in the UK, there were 77 deaths and serious injuries among child passengers under four years’ old – amounting to more than one a week. In Sweden during the same period, not a single child under the age of six died in a car and there were just 10 serious injuries among child passengers under 6 years.

Despite these startling statistics, the majority of parents in the UK continue to use forward-facing car seats for under fours, with 71% of parents questioned by research stating they made the switch before their child was 18 months old.

However, when informed about the safety benefits of rear-facing car seats, 72% of parents said they would have been more likely to choose that kind of seat if given a second opportunity.

36% of parents said they felt there wasn’t enough help and advice available when they bought their seat, 31% said there wasn’t enough choice, and less than half (47%) said they felt they’d made an informed buying decision.

Professor Lotta Jakobsson, Senior Technical Specialist, Injury Prevention, Volvo Cars Safety Centre, said: “We strongly recommend everyone to have a rear-facing child seat for their young children. All children should travel rear-faced until the age of three, and preferably four.
“The differences in anatomy between adults and children are profound. The basic principle remains the same as 50 years ago, yet even now there’s not enough access to useful information on this subject.

“Tragedies involving children in cars can be reduced with improved knowledge and awareness. This is a natural part of Volvo Cars’ commitment to improving safety not just in our cars but for all road users.”

Nick Connor, Managing Director at Volvo Car UK, said: “It seems that the rear-facing lessons Sweden learned 50 years ago sadly haven’t filtered through.

“We know parents want what’s best for their kids. What they need is good, honest, and easily accessible advice before they buy, to allow them to make informed decisions. That’s what our 2020 Vision, that no one shall be killed or injured in a new Volvo, strives to deliver.”