Steven Levitt may be trying to show that car seats are not really useful for children above age two but after a very brief research into this topic I was surprised to discover some facts and reports. Among them one especially stood out:

An Accident Study of the Performance of Restraints Used by Children Aged Three Years and Under – A study commissioned by ANEC, the European consumer voice in standardisation, AISBL” [PDF]

Nine month old child and same child at three and a half years old in same large Nordic rearward facing child seat installed in a VW Golf

Nine month old child and same child at three and a half years old in same large Nordic rearward facing child seat installed in a VW Golf

Any parent who carries his or her child in an automobile should read this important report. It includes lots of data but its introduction and conclusion are just a few pages. Pages that can dramatically affect your choice for a child car seat and the safety of your child:

For many years it has been the norm in the Nordic countries to carry children up to approximately four years of age in rear facing child restraints. In the rest of Europe and in the United States children have traditionally been put into forward facing restraints at about one year of age or less. There are detailed differences between the legislation controlling the production and performance of child seats in the USA and Europe, but nevertheless there is sufficient similarity for the accident experience in the two continents to be considered. This project set out to examine three sources of accident data with the aim of providing guidance as to which form of restraint is best for children up to four years old.

And the conclusion:

The UK, US and Swedish databases all have examples of unexpected poor protection in forward facing child seats. The problems concern neck injury, head injury, chest and abdominal damage. In these cases where there are problems, use of well designed rearward facing child restraints would avoid the injuries seen in most cases. This leads to the suggestion that children up to four years of age would be better protected if they travelled rearward facing in a suitable child restraint. The Swedish data indicates that there are no dis-benefits associated with this policy.

The literature contains clear information that car bodyshells are getting stiffer in frontal impact, as vehicle manufacturers seek to maximise adult protection in consumer information programmes, such as Euro NCAP, that potentially influence their market share. Use of the larger rearward facing child seats for children up to four years of age would contribute to counteracting this increase in the severity of impacts experienced by restrained children. Without such a change, it seems likely that the incidence of overload for children in forward facing child seats is likely to increase in the future.

It is clear that a wide gulf has developed between the conclusions of the technical community, based on accident and test experience, and the guidance provided to consumers via legislation. The technical community appears unanimous that rearward facing restraints offer the best protection until the child is around four years old. However, through the Mass Group classification, European legislation implies that it is safe for a child to travel forward facing from 9 kg onwards. For an average child 9 kg represents ten months of age for females and eight months for males. It is clear therefore that the consumer is not receiving the best technical advice via the current mass group approach within legislation. It is notable that the average four year old weighs around 16.5 kg.

After reading the report I started to look for rearward facing car seats and the two examples I found out were Volvo Britax and Concord Transformer (T or TX series). Fortunately I’m not in a hurry, our son is about 2 months old and can easily travel facing backwards in the rear seat but now that I’m aware of the report above I think I’ll be definitely looking for a rearward facing child car seat in short time.  As usual, feel free to share your suggestions and tips on this topic.