RWF or FWF – which seat is safer?

Research has shown that riding in a rearward facing (RWF) seat is up to 5 times safer for the young passenger than in a forward facing (FWF) seat. Swedes, who pay great attention to the issue of road safety, do not recognize any other way of transporting children – in Scandinavia, even 4- or 5-year-olds drive backwards. The results of applying this philosophy can be seen in the statistics: Sweden has been ranked first in the world for years when it comes to the safety of children when traveling by car.

Why is a child facing rearward safer when in a car?

This is due to… anatomy and the laws of physics. First of all, it is worth realizing how much the body of a child differs from that of an adult. The head of a 9-month-old child can account for as much as 25% of the entire weight – in the case of an adult it is only 6%. At the same time, the spine of such a child is just beginning to develop: the vertebrae are not yet very strong, because most of them consist of cartilage that can be stretched.

During a collision or sudden braking, the passengers’ bodies are subjected to enormous overloads. Adults in the front seats are protected by strong neck muscles, as well as seatbelts and airbags. For a child seated in a forward facing car seat, this protection level is significantly lower. The child’s torso will be held in the seat harness, but the head will move uncontrollably forward because the neck muscles will not be able to hold it. This can lead to serious health consequences: tearing of the ligaments of the spine and even damage to the spinal cord.

When a baby travels in an RWF seat, the forces acting on their body at the time of a traffic incident are completely different. The pressure on the child’s neck and head is then much lower, as all their momentum is absorbed by the headrest and backrest of the seat.

Road safety experts recommend that babies travel backwards up to the age of 4. It is around the fourth birthday that the child’s body changes: the head no longer constitutes such a large percentage of the body mass, and the muscles, ligaments and cervical vertebrae become noticeably stronger. Only then can you think about changing the seat to a front-facing model, although, of course, if your child has not grown out of the RWF seat, they can still (and even should!) travel in it.

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