In a press release heard ’round the world on Friday, the British Medical Journal announced a new recommendation that children up to age 4 should remain rear-facing in child restraints when riding in a vehicle.  What makes this advice so extraordinary is that researchers are telling health care professionals to advise parents and caregivers that rear-facing seats are safer for children under age 4.  That’s a big step.  Think about it: most babies in the UK are turned forward at around 9 kg.  That’s 19.8 lbs. to you and me here in the States.  Both of my kiddos hit that weight somewhere between 4 and 5 months old (yes, you read that right). 

OK, but really, big deal, right?  They’re finally jumping on the rear-facing bandwagon over there in the UK.  It’s about time, right?  Haven’t we been blowing the rear-facing hot air toward them for a long time?  Our very own American Academy of Pediatrics has been recommending since 2002 that “If a car safety seat accommodates children rear facing to higher weights, for optimal protection, the child should remain rear facing until reaching the maximum weight for the car safety seat, as long as the top of the head is below the top of the seat back.”  Kathleen Weber in her 2000 paper, Crash Protection for Child Passengers, A Review of Best Practice (UMTRI Research Review 31(3):1-27 (2000) ) noted that children were safer rear-facing for as long as possible.  This isn’t a new concept. 

Indeed, the British researchers did look to US and Swedish studies for their information.  I mean, why recreate the wheel?  The data isn’t going to all of a sudden change favorably and show that forward-facing kids don’t get broken necks in severe frontal crashes.  Physics is universal and I don’t think they’re growing their kids any differently over in Europe than we are here. 

One very curious result to come out of this recommendation was a response from Dorel, a manufacturer of such child restraints as Maxi-Cosi (a popular Euro brand), Cosco (a popular US brand), Eddie Bauer, Safety 1st, et al.  Surprisingly, the child restraint manufacturer resisted the recommendations saying most parents make the change to forward-facing because rear-facing car seats are “simply impractical in most situations.  They take up a huge amount of room in the car, usually necessitating the front seats to be moved forward, and they don’t even fit in some smaller cars.  Unless the child is given sufficient legroom, he or she will be cramped against the car’s seatback.  It can be incredibly difficult for a parent to get a larger child into such a seat and the fitting system is often very complex, increasing the chance of incorrect fitting.”  And “It reduces the growing child’s ability to interact with those in the front seats, to look around and see where they are going.”  Oh my. 

Thanks for the encouragement, guys.  Do you think you could have even tried to muster up some enthusiasm for the new recommendations?  They take up a huge amount of room in the car?  Kids take up a huge amount of room in the car.  My child will be cramped?  Have they seen my son sitting on the couch between the pillows with his leg wrapped around his shoulders?  And what about all the anecdotal data that shows leg damage to forward-facing children in crashes when their legs smash into the front seats.  I guess that doesn’t count.  The fitting system is often very complex?  (Psst, guys, it’s actually easier to install a RF seat when someone shows you how ;) ).  And as for interaction, well, I guess all those other hours of the day when my kids are out of the vehicle and interacting with me don’t count.  I’m usually telling them to be quiet. 

Clearly the Dorel press release was written by someone who was having a bad day and was ordered to throw something together to send out.  Their Euro office must not communicate with their US office.  Consider this: Dorel US convertible seats have had 35 lbs. rear-facing weight limits for 10 years.  They are in the process of training their customer service reps as technicians and they are improving their instruction manuals and labels by color coding them for rear- and forward-facing.  

Dorel has been accused in the past of making decisions based on the almighty dollar.  Is this another one?  If not, what exactly is the motive?  Why discourage keeping children safer?  Can’t you make more money by selling more rear-facing seats?  Certainly they aren’t driving the mega-mongo vehicles over in the UK that we drive here in the US, but I don’t think that Dorel is suddenly the voice of reason saying that back seats in smaller British vehicles aren’t big enough for rear-facing toddlers.  Things that make you go “hmmmm.”