Rear-facing car seats can protect infants during rear-impact crashes

Rear-facing car seats can protect infants and toddlers from injuries even during rear-impact crashes, new research claims.

Researchers said that when children are strapped in a car seat facing the back of the vehicle, they are protected during rear-end collisions despite facing the direction of the crash.  

It is recommended that children ride in a rear-facing car seat until they turn two years old, and while these seats have been shown to significantly reduce injuries in frontal and side-impact crashes little is known about how effective they are during a rear collision.

Researchers at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center said their findings ‘fill in gaps of knowledge’ about whether these car seats protect against rear-impact crashes, which account for more than 25 percent of all accidents. 

Researchers found rear-facing car seats are effective at protecting children during rear-impact crashes

Julie Mansfield, lead author of the study, said that although rear-facing car seats work in front and side-impact collisions, people rarely discuss the devices in terms of rear impact collisions.

Motor vehicle injuries are a leading cause of death among children in the US, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2015, 663 children under the age of 12 died during a car crash, while another 121,350 were injured in 2014.

Mansfield and her team conducted crash tests  on multiple rear-facing car seats with dummies inside of them to investigate the effects of various features on the devices like the carry handle position.

‘We wanted to get a general idea of what’s going on to explain how a rear-facing seat is protecting kids,’ said Mansfield, research engineer at Ohio State College of Medicine’s Injury Biomechanics Research Center.

Researchers found that when used correctly, rear-facing car seats were effective because they controlled the motion of the child and absorbed the energy of the crash. 

The seats were able to keep the child’s head, neck, and spine well-aligned and supported throughout the rear collision.

‘Even though the child is facing the direction of the impact, it doesn’t mean that a rear-facing car seat isn’t going to do its job,’ Mansfield said. ‘It still has lots of different features and mechanisms to absorb that crash energy and protect the child.’ 

This isn’t the first study to find that rear-facing car seats are effective.

Research published in a 2007 issue of Injury Prevention found that children in forward-facing car seats were more likely to be significant injured in frontal and side-impact crashes than those in rear-facing car seats. 

They aren’t sure why, but they think this is because in rear-facing car seat, a frontal crash causes a child’s head to move farther into the car seat ‘cocoon’ with the likelihood of additional protection of the car seat’s side wings. 

When in a forward-facing car seat, a frontal crash causes the child’s head to move forward and further away from the car seat, removing any benefit of the side wings.   

Meanwhile, another study published in a 2015 issue of Journal of Traffic Injury Prevention found that children in rear-facing car seats hit their heads during rear-end crashes.  However, they did not conclude that these seats were unsafe, that just they need to be made safer. 

Mansfield said what she and her team found in the current study aligns well with what is known from crash data in the real world – which indicates that rear-facing car seats are effective in protecting children against rear-end, front-end and side-impact crashes – and it’s important for parents to follow the recommended guidelines on the correct type of car seat for their child’s height, weight and age.

‘The rear-facing seat is able to support the child’s head, neck and spine and keep those really vulnerable body regions well protected. These regions are especially vulnerable in the newborns and younger children whose spine and vertebrae haven’t fused and fully developed yet,’ Mansfield said.