Extended rear-facing car seats

This post explains what extended rear-facing car seats are (ERF for short) and why they are 5 times safer than forward facing seats.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) issued a document in 2009 on child safety and defined the purpose of child car seats as follows:

The bone-forming process is not complete until the age of 6 or 7 years, and throughout childhood a child’s skull remains less strong than that of an adult. A restraint system needs to limit forward head movement in a frontal impact and provide protection from intrusion in a side impact. A child restraint should therefore distribute the crash forces over as wide an area as possible.

This is exactly what extended rear-facing car seats are designed to do and why they are better at minimising injuries than forward facing seats: they distribute crash forces over a wider area than forward facing seats. This provides better protection to children’s vulnerable heads and necks in the event of an accident.

And children’s heavy heads are one of the main reasons why forward facing seats are not as safe as ERF car seats. Proportionately to body weight, children’s heads are heavier than adult heads which means that in the event of a front crash, their heavy heads have less support and their neck muscles can become seriously damaged.

The following video by Trygg Trafikk, a Norwegian organisation promoting road safety, illustrates the point clearly:

Extended rear-facing car seats allow children to travel backwards for longer than infant carriers do which is usually up until 15 months old. How much longer will depend on how big your child is for their age. In the Car Seat Jungle database, 70% of extended rear-facing seats last until the child reaches a weight of 18kgs but there are also extended rear-facing seats which last until 25kgs (this is the remaining 30% of ERF seats in our database). Always check the manual for the weight limit of your car seat. For example, the Concord Reverso Plus has a slightly different weight limit of 23kgs so it’s really important to always know what the manual says.

ERF seats outperform forward facing seats in front crashes. What do front impact accidents look like? Here’s an example of a front impact crash in a test setting:

And here are two test crash videos, one with a forward facing seat and one with an ERF seat.

You can see how the dummy’s head snaps forward in the forward facing seats. This is hugely eliminated in the extended rear-facing seats.

But ERF car seats also provide protection in back and side crashes just as forward-facing seats do. In this blog post, the car seat manufacturer Axkid describes how a girl seated in a rear-facing car seat came out of a back impact accident unharmed.

So, extended rear-facing car seats are absolutely critical in minimising injuries in children by as much as possible.

In Europe and America, numerous organisations recommend rear-facing seats for as long as possible (click here for Car Seat Jungle’s list of just a few of these organisations) and with the new i-size regulations there’s a move towards making rear-facing seats a requirement. Specifically, when using an i-size seat the child must stay rear-facing until 15 months old but can stay rear-facing for longer than this.

For the unconvinced, here are a few more resources which show just how important keeping kids rear-facing for as long as possible is.

Rear-facing safety has a long history. Scandinavian studies: Volvo data from 1997 and Tingvall (1987) are 30 years old. Both studies looked at data of car accidents where children were involved and concluded that ERF car seats minimise the risk of injury in children involved in car accidents. These findings are confirmed again and again by new research.

The leading Swedish car seat testing lab called VTI confirms that travelling rear-facing is 5 times safer than forward facing. The VTI lab is the only one in Europe that measures neck loads of the car crash dummies.

Car seat manufacturer Joie tested their rear-facing vs. forward facing car seats and found that rear-facing seats outperformed forward seats by a mile. Their test results showed:

  • 70% less risk of head injury
  • 73% less tension on the neck
  • 34% less neck rotational force

You can also find similar figures on other car seat manufacturer website. For example, Axkid claim that “the safety and protection effect is 90-95% in a rear-facing car seat, compared to 60-70% in a forward-facing car seat” (source).

There are also useful tips and answered FAQs on the BeSafe site (among many many others) as well as statements from experts with relation to extended rear-facing car seats.

Last but definitely not least, this video put together by a grandparent who almost lost their grandson who was using a forward facing car seat in a frontal impact accident is particularly touching:

Conclusion: buying an extended rear-facing car seat is a no-brainer.

You can view all extended rear-facing car seats from our database using the free Car Seat Search tool.