As if I don’t already admonish myself enough for all the things I do too much of and shouldn’t, and then admonishing myself for all the things I don’t do enough of and should, Volvo decides to get in on the act of making me feel like the worst parent ever. And the thing is, it’s for one of the few things I thought I’d got right!
In fairness to Volvo, they probably didn’t want to make me feel an incredibly awful parent. I’m more than capable of doing that myself for the most insignificant of things. But when it came to talking about child safety in cars I was way out of my depth.
The guiding principle behind everything Volvo do is that: ‘Cars are driven by people.’ This remains at the forefront of every piece of research, every smallest piece of technology used, and every detail in their cars. Nothing is considered more important than the safety of those for whom the cars are intended; well, yes, that is pretty much everyone then. Drivers, passengers, children, big people, small people, thin or fat, Volvo have a vision that by 2020 everyone will be safe driving or riding in a Volvo.
This kind of puts my own personal challenge of losing a stone into perspective – given that they are making real progress with their own challenge – further by far than I am with mine. And the bottom line was that despite me thinking that having purchased a car seat for each of them, and ensuring that they’re all belted in before we set off on a drive, I’ve actually been doing it all wrong. Life-threateningly wrong, in fact.
Volvo created the first rearward facing car seat back in 1972, and have continually developed their research to ensure that we have the most up-to-date information on how best to keep our children safe whilst travelling. Studies of accidents involving more than 4,500 children have revealed that:
A child in a rearward facing car seat is approximately 90% more likely to remain uninjured compared to an unrestrained child.
A child using a booster seat has an approximately 75% lower risk of injury, compared to a child who is unrestrained.
‘But I always make sure my children are belted in before I drive off!’
Oh yes, that’s what I thought.
Car seats bought + kids strapped in = job done!
Except what about when, once you begin driving and can’t always stop, they start wriggling and fidgeting about?
What if, like mine do, they somehow – no matter how tightly you thought the straps fitted around their little bodies – they use their Houdini-like talents to slip one arm, closely followed by the other arm, up and over through the straps?
What if, like others of mine also do, they decide that the correct way to wear the belt is too uncomfortable to withstand and so they decide that the shoulder strap is far better under their arm rather than across it?
Well, the ‘what if’ can easily – frighteningly – become this:
Terrifying, isn’t it?
It is so extremely important that we make sure the belts are fitted correctly around our children, and if possible, we explain to those old enough to understand just why they must not wriggle and fidget and re-adjust their belts.
Always make sure that the diagonal section of the belt runs over the shoulder and isn’t slipped under the arm. Also, the lap section of the safety belt must go across the top of the child’s thighs and not their stomachs, as so many do.
Now, Volvo don’t just use one standard crash test dummy to carry out their tests. They use different models which are as close to mimicking a persons age, weight and physical being as they can possibly be. It wasn’t until I tried on a specially adapted helmet, for example, that I realised first hand the efforts a baby or young child goes to in order to keep their head steady. The weight is absolutely tremendous – far, far greater than I had ever imagined it to be – so much so that we were strongly advised to sit down before trying it on. When you realise that the head of a newborn makes up half its body weight in comparison to it making up 6% of an adults, you can’t help but have a different perspective of the challenges a newborn actually has.
It is because of these physical differences between the different ages of children which makes choosing a car seat based on age and height, and not on weight as I for some reason believed – so important. Not only would the height of the child make a difference as to which car seat is more effective for keeping him safe, but also the physical differences between different ages and stages.
Volvo are eager to stress how important it is to understand that a child is not a smaller version of an adult. As well as having much heavier heads and therefore needing more support the younger they are, there are also factors such as weaker necks, and the strength and efficiency of cartilage, muscles and ligaments which are not as developed in youngsters as they are in adults.
Lotta Jakobbsen has worked at Volvo for 25 years and is their Senior Child Safety Specialist. She told us of a family travelling through Central Europe, who were involved in a severe frontal impact crash. They were travelling with their two children – a ten-month-old and five-year-old – both of whom were in front facing car seats. The five-year-old survived with leg fractures. Tragically, the ten-month-old suffered a fatal neck fracture. This, Lotta says, is why it is so important that children up to the age of three or four years must always travel in a rear facing car seat.
The safety logic behind it is really quite simple when you stop to think about it. On impact, a passenger will be flung forward, often with highly excessive force. The smaller a child, the less it is physically able to withstand the force, so the greater the impact will affect them. Sadly, this can often be fatal. By using a rear-facing child seat the baby or child is pushed back into their seat, rather than flung forward and away from it, reducing the possibility of serious injury and even death by a dramatic margin.
I remember writing about rear facing car seats a while ago and I recall saying that I wasn’t fully convinced that my children would be happy to switch to rear facing seats. Surely they would be uncomfortable, I said? I have to say that now, after seeing this, their comfort is really not my priority.
Safety should come first.
Needless to say that after hearing the true stories, knowing the statistics and seeing the possible horrendous effects that an accident can cause, I’m finding it difficult not to rush home and switch each of the younger children’s car seats to rear facing ones. It was difficult for me as a parent, to see several crash test dummies, each of a different age or size of child, being smashed at full force into a car dashboard or through a window, and not to visualise that dummy no longer as something unfeeling and unthinking, but as one of my own precious children instead. How would they ever walk away from something like that? How can I make sure that nothing, no accident ever, will take their life? There but by the grace of God…
Our own issue though, as a larger family who have outgrown family cars and even people carriers, is that minibuses are not designed for car seats full stop, let alone rear facing ones.
I hope to carry out further research on whether these highly recommended rear facing restraints are usable in minibuses, and I’ll be sure to write about my findings here. The issues we minibus drivers have is that normally the seats are screwed into the floor and so you cannot move the seats in front forward to provide much needed extra room. The seats seem to come back quite a way; an issue with a limited footwell and no means of increasing it. The seats are also much narrower in depth than a standard car or people carrier, so while being prepared to use rear facing car seats for children aged up to three or four is a one thing, the ability to do so in our vehicles is quite another.
But if Volvo made me feel like a bad parent, goodness knows what my own parents would make of this next video! I am sure there are many people my age who remember riding in cars like this:
And this is how I remember car drives being! Either sleeping across the rear seat of the car, or bouncing around, waving out of the back window or squeezing in between my parents in the front as my Dad drove along. I see that video now and I shudder! I wonder how many of you remember this too?
After having spent time speaking with Volvo’s team, and understanding more about how they develop their new technology and realising just how much work, time and study goes into developing their on-going research, I am in no doubt that these guys know what they are talking about where child safety is concerned. And it’s not just about child safety, but the safety of everyone concerned; the safety and well-being of drivers, passengers and pedestrians are all as important as each other in Volvo’s Vision 2020.
I’ve no doubt that they’ll achieve their vision, but not before I tried crashing their cars first. It’s true!
You can see how my revenge panned out by reading ‘My Revenge on Volvo: The Day I Tried to Crash Their Cars’. It didn’t quite go to plan.