In 2016, I returned my 2 and a half year old rearwards-facing. I share the biggest things I learned about car seat safety and a review on the Volvo Maxway car seat. It might be of particular interest to you if your little one is between 9kgs and 25kgs (roughly between 9 months old and 6 years old) and you have questions on the subject of rearward facing car seats.
I’m sure you’ve noticed that a lot of the conversations around car seat safety in South Africa have focused on keeping your child rearwards-facing for as long as possible. If you haven’t, here’s the breakdown. Your little one should face backwards until they are at least 4 years old. The Volvo Maxway toddler seat, as with the BeSafe iZi Plus, allows rear facing with a 5-point harness up to 25kgs, around 6 years old.
Research has proven that it is much safer than forward facing. I have heard from too many people that they don’t “believe” the stats, videos and research. This isn’t a fairytale or Father Christmas we are talking about… It is factual data about trying to save as many children’s lives as possible.
Rear facing isn’t a “new” thing, although in SA we are substantially behind the curve. In Europe, particularly Sweden, this has been the norm for years. And the physical results are so simple, there is no question. Swedish car crash statistics, when compared to countries where most children travel facing forwards, are remarkable.
The example below is Sweden and Germany. There is no difference until the age of 1… when most German people turn their children forward-facing, as opposed to the Swedish who only turn their children around between 3 and 4.
If you think about an accident, even a little fender-bender, what is the likely result for you as a driver (in a seatbelt)? Whiplash. When I was younger I was in 3 of these many years ago, small crashes, nothing bleeding or broken. Just the most horrendous neck pain. This is because of the force that your head is thrown forward at the moment of impact.
Now stop for a second. Consider the fact that all little ones have those adorable bobble-head type proportions. If you look at the body as it grows, your little one’s head is huge and heavy in comparison to the rest of their body. Then think about the development of their skeleton. Most of you will know that a young child’s bones are still cartilage, almost elastic, and they slowly start to harden as they approach puberty. The neck is the weakest point of a baby and small child. So the biggest and heaviest part of your baby – the head, is supported by the weakest and least developed part of them – the neck.
Now think about whiplash again. A forward-facing bubba is going to have the same crash force throwing their overly-big heavy head forward, with only that delicate undeveloped neck to support it. And THAT is why rearwards-facing is so very important. Rear-facing seats are based on astronauts seats. Astronauts are rear-facing to ensure the force of takeoff and landing is evenly distributed across the entire back and solid head, as opposed to just the neck.
This is exactly the same in car seats. Instead of the vulnerable neck, the back and big head take the force of impact. Makes sense right? Have a look at this video, it makes it incredibly easy to understand the actual impact on your little one.
So, then you understand why it is so important, and then reality sets in… At least it was that way for me…
MY CHILD IS ALREADY FACING FORWARDS, SHE WILL NEVER ALLOW ME TO TURN HER BACK!
I turned Charly forward facing at around 1 year old. I literally can’t figure out exactly when, but it was the second I believed it was safe. She HATED being in a car seat, she hated being in the car, period. Somebody always had to be in the backseat with her, holding her hand, or she would scream blue murder. I was so scared to drive with her screaming, that I actually just didn’t drive alone with her. Ever. I think the first time I did, she was around 18 months. And I still haven’t driven further than town (once), alone with her.
I, like SO many of you, turned her to face forwards the second I believed it was safe. At least 3 years too early.
And now, with one of the most challenging children I have ever encountered, at the peak of the terrible twos, at 2 and a half, I was facing having to return her to rear-facing. I was terrified.
Let me start by saying that when I agreed to receive and review the Volvo toddler seat, I did not realise it was exclusively rear-facing. I was determined to try get her to face backwards, because I was suddenly terrified of being in any kind of accident with her facing forwards. But at the back of my mind, I really expected her to go so ballistic that I would give in and turn the seat forwards again. I am NOT by any stretch of the imagination perfect.
Still not realising the Volvo toddler seat was exclusively rear facing, but with the seat arriving from overseas within a week or two, I started talking to Charly about the seat. Hyping it up. Every morning when we drove to school, the sun would shine in her eyes and I would say… “Ooooh, when your new car seat comes, you can face backwards and the sun won’t be able to get in your eyes.” When it rained and she strained to see the windscreen wipers going on the windscreen, I would say, “Charly! When your new backwards facing car seat arrives, you will be able to watch the little windscreen wiper on your very own back window.”
I pulled out the mirror I had bought when she was born (never used because our previous car didn’t have back headrests), and we played with it. And I showed her how we could see each other even when we were facing the opposite directions. I played up the fact that it would be her very own quiet time, where she could be alone and think about her day or close her eyes and rest.
By the week of the seat’s arrival, she was telling anybody who crossed her path about her new car seat that is facing backwards. Granny knew all about it, her teachers knew all about it, her school friends knew all about it, the cashiers, managers, cleaners at the Spar knew about it. Every day she came home excited to see if her new seat had arrived. I didn’t let this lull me into complacency though, because she is 2. And just because she seems happy about something doesn’t mean she will be in that moment. So when it came, she squealed and screeched and stroked it and sat in it and demanded we put it in the car. And I said no.
The seat arrived on the Tuesday and we planned to install it on the Saturday. I wanted to do all the research beforehand, read all the manuals and watch a few installation videos. I also wanted Charly to sit in it, play with it, get used to the straps etc.
The Volvo seat itself is truly gorgeous. The seat cover is the most stunning soft-to-the-touch charcoal wool (which is removable and machine washable using the 30°C wool cycle).
THE VOLVO EXTENDED REAR-FACING CHILD SAFETY SEAT REVIEW
Every morning she asked if it was time yet. And on Saturday it finally was. The seat was surprisingly light to carry and easy to move around in the car. Having read the manual and looked at the install images a million times, I was sure I could get it in without any issue. You know what I didn’t account for? The fact that Brett and I generally suck at anything like this and end up wanting to hurl things at each other.
This seat can be safely used with a 3 point seatbelt or a lap belt.
Before we even took the seat outside, I had adjusted the headrest (a simple pull of a button) and adjusted the seat tilt and straps with Charly in the seat. This seat is SO safe! Most car seats are installed with seat belts alone. The Volvo has the seat belt, a footprop and 2 tether straps.
To my mind, the tether straps are what makes the Volvo seat feel like NOTHING is going to move it. You attach them to anchorage points in the car and then tighten them. This is where we ran into our only issue with the installation. In Volvo cars, there are specific anchor points on the base of the front seat to properly attach these tether straps. In spite of a really great installation video, we still had a good few snipes between us. We chose to attach the tethers to the metal bracket where the front passenger seat attaches to the car’s chassis.
Threading the belt under the seat cover and through the holes provided in the seat was super simple – high-five us! There are lock-off arms (clips) on both sides of the seat to lock the belt in place – check! With so many seats, that’s it – the full extent of the safety. Not with this one.
Double check the angle of the seat, and ensure the seat belt is properly fixed and tight. Then there is a “footprop” that extends from the back of the seat to the footwell area… Another really easy thing to adjust. So the belt is holding the seat at the front and then the footprop is propping it firmly from the back and the tether straps are fastened and tightened to the body of the car.
That little bit of frustration we encountered with the tethers doesn’t come close to the peace of mind I have with how safely secured she is. Honestly, if the installation was too easy I would have worried it wasn’t safe. Once you know that not all cars have the loops and that you can secure it to the brackets, it is very simple to install.
BUT HOW DOES CHARLY FIT AND BEHAVE REAR-FACING (and other concerns)?
You guys, she loves her Volvo seat (which now lives in my mom’s car and the BeSafe iZi Plus in my car – both rear facing to 25kg). She still tells everybody we walk past that they must come look at her seat that faces backwards. Picking her up at school has become educational for her friends’ parents. She loves being able to look me in the eye while I drive – I can glance at her in the rearview mirror without turning and not have to take my eyes off the road! She also has extensive conversations with herself in the mirror. And she loves telling everybody that she is sooooooo safe.
What surprised me was that she is actually quite deep in the car seat… Which is silly – the surprise that is. The whole idea of the seat is to protect them from all angles, so the fact that she is snugly inside the high side panels and deep shaped seat to provide her with the best protection in the event of a collision, should not have surprised me at all. But this means that most of the length of her legs is actually contained in the seat. Her feet rest comfortably against the back of the car’s seat, when she isn’t sitting cross legged… Or with her legs in the air or any other of the ridiculous toddler moves she decides on in the moment.
As for comfort, you need to keep in mind that toddlers are very flexible. If you look at them at any given moment, they are generally sitting with their legs bent. When they are very little, it is even better for the development of their hips and spine. A lot of people have said that surely their legs would be broken in a crash if they are bent in some way. According to British research there are no known cases of children having broken their legs while rear-facing; although there is research that proves it happens when they are forward-facing.
And the big question I get a lot – and was my biggest concern, what if I get hit from behind?! I am going to use an exact quote here, as it set my mind at ease. I hope it will for you as well.
“In a rear end collision both vehicles are moving in the same direction, which throws the car that is hit from behind, forward. This means that the forces of the crash are far lower than they are in a frontal impact where the vehicle comes to a sudden halt. In a rear facing seat, the child’s vulnerable head is positioned towards the centre of the vehicle, away from the point of impact. So rear facing is safer in all types of crashes, the only time rear facing would have the same effect as forward facing, would be if you were to reverse into something at high speed, and that is extremely unlikely.” http://www.rearfacingtoddlers.com/faq.html