#childsafety | Astronauts and rearward-facing child seats


Transport Month is here – and it’s all about South Africans celebrating progress in mobility. Sadly, there is one aspect of mobility that certainly cannot be celebrated: The fact that we continue to transport children unsafely.

Rearward-facing child seats are the safest position for babies and toddlers up to the age of four — this statement is supported by decades of data. However, in South Africa, most children are not positioned this way.

Astronauts and rearward-facing child seats

The very first rearward-facing child seats can be traced all the way back to 1963 when Swedish professor Bertil Aldman designed the first one.

According to CarSeat.se – a website devoted to saving children’s lives – while watching an American TV programme, Aldman noticed the position of the astronauts in the Gemini space capsule.

“By lying on their backs, they were better able to withstand the acceleration. Professor Aldman believed that this principle could be applied to protect a child in the event of a head-on collision,” the site reveals.

Fast-forward to 1972, and Volvo Cars – which invented the three-point safety seatbelt in 1959 – went on to manufacture the world’s first rearward-facing child seat.

“At the time, we stressed that all children up to the age of four should travel seated backwards. We have also done a study that has shown an 80 to 90% effectiveness of rearward-facing child seats, compared to 30 to 60% effectiveness for forward-facing child restraints,” revealed Volvo Car South Africa head of customer experience Charmagne Mavudzi.

The rearward-facing child seat ‘songbook’

Aldman and Volvo are not the only two parties singing from the rearward-facing child seat songbook.

According to a 2018 study by the American Academy of Paediatrics, motor vehicle crashes continue to be the leading cause of death of children four years and older.

It has recommended that children sit in rear-facing car safety seats for as long as possible; and that all children younger than 13 years should ride in the rear seats of vehicles.

Dr Lotta Jackobsson, a world-leading child traffic safety expert with a PhD in traffic safety and senior technical specialist in injury prevention at Volvo Cars, concurred.

“Children up to four need to travel rearward-facing in cars, simply because their neck is too weak to support the head. So, you need to protect them.”

However, for some reason, many South Africans are choosing to ignore this advice – and, as Mavudzi notes, this is a situation that needs to change.

“Our years of research into child safety have led to the creation of world-class child seats, and their integration into all our cars. Fast forward to modern Volvos and our active safety systems support all drivers who may become distracted on the road, particularly parents of young children. We need to start to address child safety in cars more seriously. We also need to utilise all the technology available to us,” she stresses.

Maybe it’s time for South Africans to follow the example of our Swedish colleagues.

Between 2000 and 2018, the number of annual road fatalities in Sweden fell by 45%.

And last year, according to Volvo Cars only nine people under the age of 18 died in road traffic accidents in Sweden – largely due to the fact that the Swedes have embraced rearward travel. Imagine if that could be achieved in South Africa! That would be a true cause for celebration in Transport Month …

Need an easy-to-understand advice on the best car safety seat for your child? 

Here’s a quick guide from Volvo:

  • Baby car seat: 0–9 months old or until the child can sit steadily. Weights up to 13kg.
  • Rear-facing child safety seat: around 7 months to 4 years old, or until the child’s head reaches the edge of the child safety seat. Weights from 9kg to 25kg.
  • Booster seat / booster cushion: 4 to 10–12 years old, or until the child is taller than 135cm. Weights from 15kg to 36kg.

Did you know? 

Space travel has been a source of inspiration for many other items that we use daily?

For instance, the first treadmills were developed by Nasa to allow astronauts to stay fit and keep their muscles from atrophying in a weightless atmosphere.

In the 1960s, Nasa engineers were searching for a feature that would allow astronauts to interact more easily with computers in spacecraft. So, together with their colleagues from Stanford University, they developed the first computer mouse.





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