Child car seats: rearward vs forward facing, which is best?

Which offers more protection: a forward- or rearward-facing child car seat? And what is Isofix, and should you choose this type of seat?...

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Claire Evans
14 July 2016

Until the new i-Size standard is rolled out for seats for larger children, all i-Size seats are rearward-facing. Whether you go for an i-Size seat or not, though, there’s a strong argument for keeping children in rearward-facing seats for as long as possible.

“Children are not little adults,” explains Simon Bellamy, the managing director of independent retailer, the In Car Safety Centre. “They have a developing bone structure and many of their organs are sited differently from ours. The weight of their heads as a proportion of their body is also a major factor. All of these points are reasons to support and restrain a child in a rear-facing position for as long as possible.”

Child car seats: rearward vs forward facing, which is best?

Some Group 1 seats for children weighing 9-18kg are rearward facing, but as children grow they will run out of leg room, and forward facing will be a more comfortable and practical option.

Should I use an Isofix seat?

The old-fashioned method of securing a child seat is with the car's seatbelt. According to research by the German Insurance Association (GDV), just 30% of seats secured with a seatbelt are fitted properly. For a Group 1 Isofix seat, that figure jumps to 96%. That’s because the child seat simply clicks into place using two arms that attach directly to anchor points in the car.

Some seats also have a top tether point or an adjustable support leg, both of which are designed to prevent the seat from moving forwards in a front-end crash.

“We recommend Isofix seats over belted seats, although we appreciate that not all cars are equipped with Isofix anchorage points,” says Mark Bennett, Britax’s European product expert. “It is a very safe, quick and easy-to-use system that simplifies the busy lives of parents and gives them the confidence to install child seats in an intuitive way.”

An Isofix seat may make seat fitting easy, but correctly adjusting the harness that holds your child in place is equally important. The harness should be set about 2cm below the top of the child’s shoulder on a rear-facing seat and 2cm above it on a forward-facing seat.

“The harness should be tightened sufficiently so that you can just squeeze two fingers behind the shoulder pads. Some seat makers suggest a one-finger space. Either way, a loose harness is dangerous,” adds Bellamy.

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