What is a rear-facing car seat?
A rear-facing car seat is one which positions your child facing towards the back of the vehicle rather than facing in the direction of travel.
Babies weighing under 9kg (approximately nine months old) must sit in a rear-facing seat when travelling in a car, according to current UK law. After this, they may move into a forward-facing car seat.
However, recent changes to car seat safety regulations advise keeping a child in a rear-facing seat for longer than this - until at least 15 months old. The new legislation will eventually replace existing law, but until then you can choose when to move your child from a rear-facing car seat to a forward-facing one - but rear-facing is safest.
Rear-facing car seat laws
New EU car seat safely legislation called ECE R129 was introduced in July 2013, stipulating that babies must travel in rear-facing car seats for longer than existing car seat law required - i.e until they are at least 15 months old. This is based on research which shows that a child is safest in a rear-facing car seat if the vehicle is in a frontal collision, which is the most common kind of road collision.
Consequently, a new type of car seat which is compliant with the latest legislation has been introduced. Called iSize seats, these are installed using your vehicle’s ISOFIX anchor points and are designed to allow children to continue sitting rear-facing in the car for as long as possible - at least until they are at least 15 months old. Some seats allow for children to remain rear-facing well beyond this.
iSize legislation runs alongside existing car seat law so it’s not mandatory that you buy an iSize seat or keep your child in a rear-facing seat past 9kg - but this is the latest car seat safety advice and will eventually replace current regulations.
Why should I get a rear-facing car seat?
Current UK law states that all children travelling by car must use an appropriate car seat unless they are at least 12 years old, or measure 135cm or taller in height.
A rear-facing car seat offers greater protection to your child in a frontal collision, and is up to five times safer than a forward-facing seat for a child under the age of four years old.
Pros and cons of rear-facing car seats
Any potential ‘disadvantages’ of rear-facing car seats are outweighed by the additional protection which a rear-facing seat offers, but there are some factors to consider before you buy a rear-facing car seat.
Some children, especially those who have already made the move to a forward-facing seat, may not like facing ‘backwards’ in the car. However it’s comfortable as well as safer, and many children actually enjoy the novelty of facing the ’wrong’ way.
Additionally, some rear-facing car seats can be difficult to install. Your child’s safety could be compromised if there’s a risk that the car seat is incorrectly installed but arranging for a trained car seat fitter to install it can prevent this.
Some rear-facing seat have bulky bases which may not be practical in smaller cars but this is something to check before you purchase a rear-facing car seat. To find a rear-facing car seat which best suits your needs, try seats out in your vehicle - with your child sitting in the seat - before you buy.
It’s also a little more difficult to keep an eye on your child from the front seat of your car if they’re sitting in a rear-facing seat, but a back seat mirror - widely available to buy - is a simple way to overcome this.
Improved safety is the greatest and most obvious benefit of investing in a rear-facing seat; a child under the age of four will be better protected in a collision if she is sitting in a rear-facing car seat.
Where to buy rear-facing car seats
Rear-facing car seats can be purchased from all reputable car seat manufacturers.