In the latest edition of Which? Magazine they once again take a look at rear facing car seats, and although they are slightly less negative than they have been in the past, they are still far from positive...
This is Which?'s article with my responses in green.
Child car seats: Rear-facing child car seats
Rear-facing child car seats - the cons
The cons. But where are the pro's...?
Isofix rearfacing Group 1 seat
Which? has been testing child car seats for many years and, although we support parents keeping their children rear-facing for longer, we know that there are drawbacks to the extended rear-facing seats currently available.
Early extended rear-facing seats difficult to install
The first tests we carried out on Scandinavian rear-facing Group 1 child car seats revealed that, while they performed satisfactorily in crash tests, they were without exception so difficult to install properly that we couldn't recommend them.
At that time, no Group 1 rear-facing seats were available in the UK - meaning parents had to buy them from abroad and couldn’t try them out before buying.
We recommend you try any seat in your car, with your child, before buying, as it allows you to check you are happy with the way it fits.
Nearly all Scandinavian RF car seats have passed the Swedish Plus Test. The Swedish Plus Test is the world's only car seat test that measures the loads on the chid's neck. Sweden's child fatality rate has been virtually zero for decades, because Swedish children travel rear facing. Yet Which? Magazine says they perform 'satisfactorily'…
Rear facing car seats are not difficult to install. At all. They are different to forward facing seats, but by no means difficult. Saying that they are difficult to install puts people off buying them. These people then go to the high street and buy a cheap forward facing seat. They don't bother to read the instructions, because forward facing seats are easy, right? WRONG! At car seat checking clinics which are held all over the country they find that around 70% of all seats are used incorrectly. The vast majority of incorrectly used seats are forward facing. But when somebody with an ERF seat turns up at these clinics, their seats are always fitted correctly. Because people who choose ERF car seats do their homework. They know how much safer the seats are and they know how to fit them properly. So giving the chance of incorrect fitting as a reason not to buy these seats doesn't make any sense as far more forward facing seats are misused.
Few chain stores provide an extensive range of rear-facing car seats for you to try
Problems with trying and buying
A number of rear-facing Group 1 seats have been launched in the UK but they are still the exception rather than the rule in most retailers' stores. This makes it difficult to compare different models side by side.
You may still need to visit a specialist retailer or order online to get the extended rear-facing car seat that you want. However, we don't recommend buying online because of the poor advice we've seen to help parents buy and choose the right seat for their child and their car.
Britax sells a number of its car seats through special safety initiative retailers, who will demonstrate the seat for you before you buy. This is a good idea because installing extended rear-facing seats is often complicated.
Extended rear-facing seats are also often fairly pricey.
I do agree that it is a good idea to try a seat in your car before you buy one. But if you are not near a specialist retailer, you still have more chance of getting the right rear facing seat based of telephone and email advice from a specialist than you are leaving a high street store with a box under your arm. Allowing supermarkets and car accessory retailers to sell car seats is far more likely to result in badly fitted car seats, than a car seat sold online by a specialist.
Most rear facing car seats are around the same price as good quality forward facing ones.
Mixed results for extended rear-facing seats in our tests
You need space in front of a rear-facing child car seat
The space that the seats take up in the car is always given by Which? as a reason not to recommend them. This is nonsense for two reasons. I have yet to turn a customer away because their car was too small for any of the seats that I sell. There will always be one that fits. And what a lot of people don't realise is that forward facing seats move forward a lot in a crash, whereas rear facing seats hardly move. So although a forward facing seat can fit into a smaller space, a forward facing seat actually needs a lot more room in a crash to avoid the child banging their head.
We have tested a number of extended rear-facing seats from brands including BeSafe, Britax, Joie and Cybex.
Some seats performed very well in crashes but were so difficult to install that our experts thought the risk of getting it wrong was too high.
Others could be used in a range of modes, including forward-facing, where crash protection was not as good as the best forward-facing seats in front- and side-crashes.
Some failed to offer enough protection in some modes, or were too complicated to install.
And some were straightforward to install and offered good protection in front- and side-crashes.
Therefore choosing an extended rear-facing seat does not instantly guarantee the best seat you can buy.
As I already said above, people who buy rear facing seats do not install them wrong. They are really not difficult to install at all, I can install an Extended Rear Facing car seat in about four minutes. Which?'s 'experts' saying that the risk of getting it wrong is too high, is basically saying that they think that people are too stupid to read instructions. Some people definitely are, that is true. But they do not tend to be the people who do a lot of research into getting the right car seat. Those that do will get it right. And it is not up to Which? Magazine to decide that these car seats are so difficult that most people will get it wrong. They really aren't.
When Which? test seats they test them in every possible mode and base their overall rating on the lowest score. A seat can get excellent results in rear facing mode, but not do very well forward facing, so they tell you not to buy it. This is fair enough from their point of view, but what they fail to recognise is that people who buy these seats are not interested in forward facing. An ERF seat in FF mode may not perform as well as the best forward facing seat. But in rear facing mode that same seat will outperform any forward facing seat by far.
Bulky seats with little legroom
Of the UK-available rear-facing Group 1 child seats we've tested so far, all were relatively bulky compared with good forward-facing models.
This is complete nonsense. Rear facing seats are exactly the same size as forward facing ones, they often have the same shell as a forward facing seat within the same brand.
Many rear-facing car seats leave older children with nowhere to put their legs
Lots of children in rear facing car seats choose to sit like this even if there is enough room for their legs to go down. Having somewhere to rest your legs is much more comfortable than having them dangling down.
This little girl looks perfectly happy to me.
So you might struggle for space in a conventional medium family hatch, or find it difficult to accommodate your whole family, even in larger cars.
We also commonly find that comfort is an issue, because extended rear-facing seats don't offer a comfortable place to rest the legs. Older children in particular often appear very squashed, with nowhere to put their legs.
Which? give the answer to this 'problem' themselves here, so I don't really see why they raised it in the first place...
However, it is worth remembering that children are more flexible than adults and can sit comfortably in cross-legged positions. Although a child's legs may appear more vulnerable when they're facing the back of the car, the aim of the car seat is to protect their head, neck and internal organs, which are harder to heal than broken bones.
Other common problems with rear-facing child car seats
One of the most common reasons for parents turning their child forwards too soon is that they think their child is not happy facing backwards.
Car sickness and boredom are common reasons that parents give for wanting to turn them round.
We often criticise extended rear-facing seats for their poor view for the child, but infants are used to travelling rearward-facing - they won't know it is more interesting to travel facing forwards unless you encourage them to think that.
Some parents also want to be able to keep a closer eye on their child than they are able to when the seat is facing away from them. But it is worth remembering that interacting with your child while driving is a distraction that could end in a collision.
In this last paragraph Which? do seem to finally have come round to the fact that rear facing car seats are definitely safer, but they are still not doing enough to dispel any of the myths that they raise here.
I have never come across a child that wasn't happy rear facing, in my experience and from the stories that I hear from other people, they all love it! If you remove the headrest the child has a great view from the rear window as well as the side ones. It is not more interesting to face forward in the back of a car at all. And if you're worried about a child who you can't see in the back, get a mirror or put them in the front next to you.
In previous reports Which? have always been very negative about rear facing. In this one they are still far from positive, but at least they do finally seem to agree that rear facing is a good thing. It's just a shame that they still seem to think that it's ok to put people off by only focussing on what they see as drawback. When people who use extended rear facing car seats for their children know that none of the 'issues' that Which? raise are actually problems at all.