Saturday, 1 February 2014

Extended Rear Facing (ERF) Explained

As ex-ambulance control staff, currently working in the nursery industry and a mum as well, I know too well the importance of carseat safety. I’m carseat fitter trained and take great care each time to ensure that J is secured properly in his carseat. I take the seat out of the car to clean it and re-fit it once a month to ensure it is working as it should be and is correctly installed. One of my pet hates are people ignorant of the dangers of an incorrect carseat fitting in their vehicle, incorrect use of the carseat harness (too loose) or people who are so desperate for their child to go into a forward facing carseat as soon as possible.

Rearfacing is safest. Extended rear facing (known as ERF) has been around for ages, but it’s only in the last few years that it has come to the UK and is becoming more common. Due to the fact a baby and toddler has such a large, heavy head in comparison with the rest of their body, plus the fact their neck and spinal muscles are less developed than an adults, means that in an impact in a rear facing carseat they will be pressed into the seat and the force distributed across their shoulders. In a forward facing carseat, an impact will cause their head to snap forward, putting extreme stress on their neck and spinal muscles, which in some cases can be fatal.

The head of a baby / small child is much larger & heavier than that of an adult

As one of the biggest carseat manufacturers, Maxi Cosi noted the growing public call for ERF seats and became heavily involved with a project for the next stage of carseat safety standard. Currently, all European carseats have to meet ECE R44-04. This is an amended standard of the previous one, and not a lot changed. In reality, to meet this standard, a carseat is not put through its paces particularly well. For instance, there is no rollover test or side impact test before the seat can be awarded this standard. Maxi Cosi, on the other hand, have been exceeding the standard for quite a while by producing carseats which go above and beyond the standard – but of course there is no additional award or standard that can be given, so their carseats wear the same standard ECE badge as a cheap £20 carseat that barely meets standard. As a parent, how are you meant to know which is the best option? Especially in these times of everyone being financially stretched, it’s easy to see why parents do buy cheap carseats – after all, if they all meet the standard, the only difference is the price, right? It may come as a shock to many to learn that this is not the case. In fact, you could compare it to the difference between a supermarket value brand food and the finest range.

Maxi Cosi’s involvement in developing the next stage of carseat safety standard has allowed them to put forward their own ideals for what a carseat should be tested to before it is sold and considered an optimum safety carseat. This standard is called iSize. This new standard changes what criteria the product has to meet. Currently, the Maxi Cosi 2wayFix base when used in combination with the 2wayPearl is the only iSize approved carseat unit.

Under the current standard, your standard Group 1 carseat is suitable from 9-18kg. As a guideline, the age “approx. 9 months – 3.5yrs” is added. Many people don’t see the weight as being the important bit, even though it is the vital information in this statement. They ignore the “approx.” and as soon as their child is nine months old they rush them into a forward facing carseat, whether or not they are the minimum 9kg weight. To discourage this, the new iSize standard states that when using an iSize seat the child remains rearfacing til 15 months, regardless of height or weight. This is because it is not until 15 months that their neck muscles are developed enough to limit damage in an impact. Maxi Cosi recommends when using an iSize seat that the child is rearfacing til 2 years. In a Maxi Cosi 2wayPearl (used in combination with 2wayFix base) the seat can be forward faced at 15 months or you can continue to use it rearfacing until 105cm (approx 4 yrs) 

My son J has always been very tall – as a baby he was very long. He outgrew his CabrioFix carseat at nine months old due to his height, but he was nowhere near 9kg; which is why we then got him an Opal, and he remained rearfacing til he was almost 19 months. I don’t have IsoFix in my car, so it takes some option out of selecting a suitable carseat, but both my parents cars have IsoFix and so our 2wayFix and 2wayPearl product testing is carried out using their vehicles.

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