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Rear facing child car seats

Rear-facing baby car seats: the pros

By Lisa Galliers

Article 2 of 3

Every parent wants to keep their baby safe. Find out the pros of using a rear-facing child car seat.

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Rear-facing child car seats: the pros

In theory, it’s safer for all car passengers to travel facing rearwards. But the direction a child car seat faces isn’t the only thing affecting how well it protects your child. At Which?, our unique child car-seat tests look at many different factors that have an impact. The main focus of our reviews are crash tests, but we also pay attention to how easy a car seat is to fit into the car, the risk of getting it wrong and how clear the instructions are.

Best Buy child car seats - find out which car seats passed our extensive testing with flying colours

Car seat safety

Nobody wants to be involved in a car accident, but sometimes they do happen, regardless of how safe a driver you are.  

The most dangerous car accidents are frontal collisions. They’re the most common type of incident, and generally take place at the highest speeds.

When a car crashes in a frontal collision, all the occupants continue to move forwards until their seatbelt or harness stops them, holding them in place so they don't hit the inside of the car.

However, this force can cause a lot of strain on the areas of the body held back by the belts, and also on the head and limbs, which are flung forward, too.

Babies’ bodies are different from adults’, as they’re not fully developed. They can suffer severe injuries to their neck, spine and internal organs from the force of a crash, especially if they’re not strapped in properly or are in the wrong car seat. 

In a front crash, in a forward-facing seat, a baby's neck is subjected to a force equivalent to 300-320kg - that's about 47 stone of weight on a baby's neck.

In a front crash, in a rear-facing seat, the baby’s head is cocooned by the padding and the shell of their car seat. This supports the head and back, limiting the movement of the head on the neck, and reducing the force on the neck.

Rear-facing baby car seats offer four types of protection. They:

  • make sure that a baby’s head doesn't move around, reducing the chance of neck and spine injuries
  • stop the head banging into other surfaces, such as the car door or window
  • surround the baby with a protective shell to prevent them from being hit by bits of car, glass or other debris
  • distribute the pressure from the child restraint as widely as possible over the strongest parts of the body. In an infant, the strongest part of the body is the back.

Compare the scores for all the child car seats we've tested in our child car seats reviews.

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Rearward-facing for longer

In Scandinavia, rear-facing car seats have been used for a long time. Accident statistics show that child fatalities in car crashes there are rare.

In the UK, infant fatalities in car crashes are low, but there is a marked increase in the number of deaths after the age of one, when children are usually transferred to forward-facing car seats.

15 monthsThe age we recommend you keep your baby in their baby car seat until.

Extended rear-facing car seats will keep your baby facing backwards until they’re around four years old, and their bodies are a bit stronger. There are car seats available that will let you keep your child rearward-facing for much longer, though.

We recommend keeping your baby rearward-facing for as long as possible. Keep them in a baby car seat up until they are 15 months old, they reach the weight limit for the car seat, or the crown of their head is above the top of the seat – which means it won’t be as protected in a crash.

More convenient

One of the benefits of an extended rear-facing car seat is that it will last you up until your child reaches around four years of age, or until around they’re 105cm tall for i-Size seats. This means you don’t have to buy another car seat for a while, and will get maximum value from your initial purchase.   

i-Size child car seats - get the lowdown on the latest car-seat regulations.

Best Buy car seats

Choosing a Which? Best Buy gives you the assurance that a car seat is intuitive to install, so there is less risk of doing it incorrectly. For all the seats we test, we also provide star ratings for fitting the car seat in a car and avoiding incorrect use, so check these out for the models you’re interested in.

We also give a star rating for overall safety, which includes the results of our crash tests for frontal impact and side-impact collisions.

You’ll see from our ratings that some extended rear-facing car seats are difficult to install, and have been downgraded accordingly, but still have good crash test results. If you buy one of these seats, we'd recommenced getting it installed by an expert.

Get your seat fitted

If you do opt for an extended rear-facing car seat, we’d recommend that you have the seat fitted at a retailer that specialises in this type of seat. We’d also recommend you read the instructions several times, and watch installation videos online, to be sure it’s installed correctly.

Which? child car seat experts have found that it isn’t automatically the case that a rear-facing car seat is the safest option, but there will be important reasons why, so check out our reviews before you head to the shops.  

Head over to our next guide Extended rear-facing car seats: the cons, to find out what's you need to consider before buying.