Picking a Group 1 car seat – the magic of rear facing

This is a guest post by Patrycja Drennan. I got to know Patrycja through a baby group and if there is ever a question (there are many questions!) on rear facing car seats, she is our guru! So I thought this topic definitely needed to be addressed on the blog and she would be the perfect person to ask to do a guest post. I wasn’t wrong either; read on to find out all you need to know about buying a rear facing car seat when your baby grows too big for the newborn one.

Guide to rear facing car seat options
Patrycja’s son Nico in his rear facing car seat

My husband is a racing driver and always said if he’s ever to have a crash he’d much prefer to be going in backwards. I never really paid much attention to or fully understood it until we were a few weeks away from having our son and looking into children’s car seats.

As parents we feel the most important thing is the responsibility to keep our children safe at all times, especially in a car. Every year thousands of children die or are injured in road crash accidents and it’s worthwhile knowing how to minimise the chances of this happening to your child. Obviously you want to do your best to protect your offspring since the day they’re born but picking your kid’s car seats can seem confusing and difficult at the best of times

Guide to rear facing car seat options
Choosing the correct size car seat. Image Credit: Road Safety Authority

It is a given that infants should only travel in rear facing baby carriers but how time flies! At around a year old our tiny baby was almost outgrowing his first car seat and it was time to think about the next one. We knew it was ok for his legs to dangle out but as soon as the top of his head was starting to even out with the back of the seat it was high time to move him. I thought we had done enough research and had it all figured out. But picking a Group 1 seat (9-18kg, approx. 1-4 years old) is a whole new ball game and a minefield in itself. It can be a quite daunting and very frustrating time when your head is melted with choice in the shops or online and recommendations from family and other parents.

There’s almost too much choice. All of a sudden you’re hit with many new brand names, designs, styles and to top it all off the option to turn your child forward facing. You might again feel like that time when you were leaving the hospital with the tiny baby tucked away in their first baby carrier, clueless and petrified.

The law and where to find information.

Guide to rear facing car seat options
Current and new car seat regulations comparison. Image Credit: Maxi-Cosi

The Road Safety Authority of Ireland (RSA) guidelines along with ECE R44/04 law say you could have your baby in a forward facing seat from 9kg already. But after doing a minimal amount of research into Group 1 seats you’ll quickly find that sadly this is not the best option.

Also there’s a new European regulation out since 2013 – the i-Size. It runs along ECE R44/04 and focuses on the car seat safety performance from birth to 105cm (approx. 4 years old). It uses the child’s height rather than weight as the guide for car seats installed using Isofix. The child has to stay rear facing until minimum of 15 months old.

I was lucky enough to come across one of many rear facing groups on Facebook where I found a vast amount of expertise. Also when we went into a baby goods shop we were dealing with a very well trained and knowledgeable staff members. There we were once again assured that you should rear face your child for as long as possible and a minimum until they reach 18kg weight (approx. 4 years old).

Why a rear facing car seat? The facts

Guide to rear facing car seat options
Head to body ratio chart from 5 months to adulthood. Image credit: Cybex

Babies and children’s head to rest of body ratio is 5 times the one of an adult and it accounts for 25% of their body weight. To help you understand it would be like putting a giant watermelon on an adult’s shoulders.

When a child is forward facing in a 50km/h frontal accident the force of the crash pushes the head forward at 180-300kg and thrusts the neck, hands and legs. Until they reach 6 years of age children’s bones are soft and spines not fully formed. The combination of this and the force pushing on them in a crash will result in the spinal cord being stretched way above its limit.

Guide to rear facing car seat options
Forward facing seats don’t offer enough protection in a crash. Image Credit: Cybex

Also, in a crash a forward facing seat the harness holds the child’s underdeveloped rib cage to the seat while limbs and head are thrust forward. This will more than likely lead to catastrophic injuries, internal organs damage, paralysis or even death.

In a rear facing car seat the force of the accident is only 40-80kg and spread evenly along a much greater area. The child’s back, neck and head are protected by the seat’s back because it absorbs the impact.

This is why it is important to protect our babies from whiplash type injuries and keep them rear facing for as long as possible. Check out the youtube video by Trygg Traffic below showing forward facing and rear facing car seat comparison in a crash.

Parents nationwide are wondering what is this rear facing buzz all about? Is it another fashionable trend that will fizzle out or pass next season? No – it’s been here for a while and it’s here to stay. In fact, kids have been in rear facing car seats in Sweden since 1960’s but it’s only in the last few years the rest of Europe and the world started to follow suit.

Guide to rear facing car seat options
Road Safety Authority statistics on child road crash injuries and deaths. Image Credit: Road Safety Authority

A rear facing car seat is 5 times safer than a forward facing seat in case of an accident, reduces injuries by 96% and limits severe injury risk to only 8%. By introducing mandatory rear facing seats for children 4 years old and younger Sweden managed to reduce the child car accident mortality rate to zero between 2006 to 2007 – pretty impressive isn’t it?

Shopping around and safety tricks

Guide to rear facing car seat options
Patrycja’s childen, Nico and Maia, sleeping in their rear facing car seats

When picking a Group 1 seat lots of research is to be done and many questions to be answered. Which seat has the best safety rating, is the baby going to like it and feel comfortable in it, will it fit your car/cars, can it be moved to another car and installed quickly, is it better to have it installed with a seatbelt or isofix etc.

While shopping around it’s vital to try the seat on in the car as not all seats are compatible with all cars. You will also need to learn to install it correctly, this can be demonstrated by the shop staff, found in the car seat manual and there’s videos on the manufacturer’s website and YouTube.

Using a seat that’s incompatible with the car or is installed incorrectly can be extremely dangerous and a main factor in a life or death situation.

RSA regularly organises Check It Fits events all over Ireland to help parents make sure their kids’ seats are installed correctly. Also the car seat harness has to tightened properly in order to work correctly. The child shouldn’t be wearing a bulky jacket or coat as the harness cannot be tightened properly then. You can get a car seat approved blanket to keep the child warm.

Ron Richardson, RSA child car seat expert says:

‘When measuring the harness tightness on the child, when rear facing you should be able to put two fingers under the harness at the top of the shoulders, but would have resistance or difficulty twisting your fingers. When forward facing the same method applies but slightly to the front of the shoulders. The reason I bring it up is because a lot of parents do this, but check at the tummy. Trust me, if it’s that tight at the tummy, it’ll be way too tight at their shoulders, and this can lead to the child dipping the shoulders and removing the harness.

Since RSA started their records we found that 1 out of 10 car seats are incompatible with the car. There is nothing wrong with the car or car seat but for several reasons they won’t fit safely in the car. Buckle crunch, long buckles, forward anchorage, vehicle seat bucketing, etc.

Also, 4 out of 5 car seats are fitted incorrectly. That’s 80% of all the car seats we see are fitted wrongly. That ranges from minor adjustments to seats so badly fitted that a child would suffer death or a life altering injury in case of an accident.’

The myths about a rear facing car seat

Guide to rear facing car seat options
A common myth is that the child won’t have enough space for their legs in rear facing position. Here you can see Patrycja’s older child Nico (2 years and 9 months) perfectly comfortable.

Ok so now we all know a rear facing car seat is the only way to go but there still are so many myths surrounding it. Like what about the child’s legs, where do they go? Will the child be able to see anything when in a rear facing car seat? How will I be able to see them and communicate with them? Surely they won’t like being rear racing? Well the legs fit just fine and they can see out the side window and the rear windscreen. You can get a mirror for the back rest and see your child in the rear view mirror. And as to whether they’ll like it, it’s really up to you which way your kid will travel and unless they’re getting sick travelling – rear facing is the safest. Simples!

My son is almost 3 now and still very comfortable in his rear facing car seat, his little sister is in a Maxi Cosi Cabriofix and both will definitely be rear facing until they’re at least 4.

The money

Guide to rear facing car seat options
An example of the vast array of car seats available. No wonder it#s so hard to choose.

And finally, how much do rear facing car seats cost? There’s a common misconception that they are very very expensive but they’re not, you can buy a decent seat belt installed rear facing car seat for as little as €100! The prices will vary up to around €550 depending on the type of installation (seatbelt or isofix) and whether you want to rear face your child until 18kg or 25kg.

Seems a good deal compared to the cost of some upmarket buggies.

A seat that’s installed with isofix will need a base to click into so they tend do be more pricey than the seat belt ones. There’s also seats with an extra swivel function which allows you to turn the seat around without taking it out, some people find it easier to put a child in and take them out of the seat when it swivels.

There are a few well known and respected brands on the Irish market that make rear facing seats, to name a few Britax, Joie, BeSafe, Nuna and Maxi Cosi. There’s more to be found in Irish and UK online shops and foreign ones too.

We decided to go for a Finnish Klippan Triofix Recline as the main seat and later bought a Joie Stages for husband’s car.

Guide to rear facing car seat options
Car seat performance in the event of a crash. Image credit: securatot.co.uk

It can be tempting to buy a second hand seat but unless you’re buying from friends or family then leave it. You need to be a 100% sure the seat has never been involved even in the most minor accident as this would affect the safety performance. Better to be 100 times careful than once sorry.

So if you’re shopping around for a Group 1 seat, get out there and do your research early, don’t be afraid to ask questions and demand answers. Don’t be fooled – the cheapest rear facing car seat will still be much safer than the most expensive forward facing one. The magic of rear facing really works!

In the end picking the right seat could make all the difference in case of an accident and save your child’s life.

Further safety information can be found on the Road Safety Authority website.

Signup for email updates

Subscribe to The Irish Baby Fairy blog and receive an email once I publish new posts.

I will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.