Volvo’s New Child Restraints Highlight Differences in Safety Philosophy

… And Show That Child Safety is Done a Bit Differently Outside of North America

By Kevin Miller

04.20.2009

19255_1_52Last week Volvo introduced three new child restraints; an infant carrier with handle, a convertible car seat, and a booster. The restraints, not tested to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, will be offered for sale only in Europe and Asia. While the text of the press release discusses the size of child intended to use each seat, and the fact that children are recommended to travel rear-facing until the age of four (really!?), the most telling information comes in the form of the photos Volvo published with their press release. You’ll notice that the rear-facing infant and the rear-facing toddler both have their child restraints installed in the front seat of the Volvo. Here in the US, that is not allowed in vehicles with front airbags. While newer cars are equipped with an occupant sensor which can de-activate the passenger airbag, there are still warnings not to put a rear-facing child seat in the front seat of a vehicle equipped with an airbag.

As a father of two and the driver of a Volvo V70, it is understandable why Volvo would show their child seats installed up front. The V70’s backseat (and the shape of the front seats and headrests) doesn’t allow sufficient room to install a rear-facing convertible car seat in any position except the center. Installing it behind the passenger seat would mean positioning the passenger seat so far forward that nobody could sit there.

Volvo’s press release about their child restraints was timely, as I spent several hours this weekend dealing with car seats in my V70. My infant daughter has just outgrown her Graco SnugRide infant seat. That meant moving my nearly-four-year-old daughter from the forward-facing Graco ComfortSport convertible car seat to the V70’s integrated booster seat, and installing the ComfortSport rear-facing for my younger daughter.

Unfortunately, with the V70’s integrated booster seat deployed in either outboard position, there isn’t sufficient width for the ComfortSport to be installed in the center position while still being able to reach the buckle for the outboard seatbelt. After nearly an hour of cursing while contorting myself in the V70’s narrow backseat, I decided to try the Britax Marathon from my wife’s car, which we were also turning around for our younger daughter to use. I was able to squeeze the Marathon into the center position and still had room to connect the outboard seatbelt for the integrated booster seat.

While the Britax Marathon is physically a larger seat than the Graco ComfortSport, the Marathon has a narrower and smaller base which allowed it to fit into the back of the V70. As the ComfortSport was already known to not fit snugly in my wife’s car, we had to purchase a second Britax Marathon for her car, to complement the Graco TurboBooster booster seat we had just purchased for our older daughter to use in that car.

It is likely not a coincidence that the Britax Marathon was the seat that ended up fitting properly in my V70, since Volvo partners with Britax Römer in the design of their car seats. “Our cooperation is a perfect synthesis whereby the manufacturer provides the expertise in the design of attractive and comfortable child seats and we add our know-how on safety for children in cars,” explains Jessika Andréasson, Product Manager at Volvo Cars.

Volvo’s press release indicated that Volvo Cars recommends that children travel rearward facing for as long as possible, at least until the age of three or four, preferably longer. The specification for their convertible car seat states that the seat cannot be turned forward facing before the child is 3 years old and 15 kg (33 lbs). “Children should travel rearward facing for as long as possible,” confirms Jessika Andréasson. “If our new child seats result in more children traveling rearward facing for longer, then we are pleased.”

19257_1_521I can understand the safety benefits of having children in a rear-facing seat. A child’s neck is weak and it is still growing, and the head is proportionately larger than that of an adult. When traveling rearward facing, incoming collision forces are spread across the back and head, thus reducing the load on the neck in a frontal impact, which is the most common and often the most dangerous type of collision. That being said, I don’t understand where kids’ legs are supposed to go when a convertible car seat is rear-facing. Our older daughter wasn’t much more than a year old when we turned her car seat around to forward-facing, because her feet were pressing against the seatback upholstery in our cars. She is now nearly four years old, and her legs interfere with her sitting in the Britax Marathon as it is installed in rear-facing configuration for her little sister to use.

While Volvo is known as a leader in vehicle and occupant safety, the fact that they show their child restraints installed in the front seat of their vehicles is surprising, since it seems we are always hearing that the back seat is the safest place for children to ride. Regulations for child seats may vary from country to country, but the actual safety of putting children in the back seat does not vary. While I would love to have more space in my V70 for my daughters’ child restraints, moving one of them to the front seat is not the way to get that space.

COPYRIGHT Autosavant – All Rights Reserved

Author: Kevin Miller

As Autosavant’s resident Swedophile, Kevin has an acute affinity for Saabs, with a mild case of Volvo-itis as well. Aside from covering most Saab-related news for Autosavant, Kevin also reviews cars and covers industry news. His “Great Drive” series, with maps and directions included, is a reader favorite.

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3 Comments

  1. Who says that US auto safety experts are the most knowledgeable on earth? Frequently there is more than one way to obtain a good result and this just demonstrates that our “experts” in Washington have chosen something else.

    One example is the high mounted stoplight on cars – unique to the US. I believe that research has shown that it has done nothing to raise safety. And many millions of dollars has been spent with no benefit.

  2. If I recall correctly, the 2008 statistics for children under 10 killed while riding in a car in Sweden showed 1(!), a six year-old.
    This in a nation of some 9 million, positively crawling with Volvo wagons. So you gotta figure they kinda know what they’re doing.
    And fwiw, you can turn off the front-seat passenger airbag on most cars here. But, yes, they do recommend kids ride in the back.

  3. I’m sure there are a lot stories like the one I have about a Volvo wagon. When I was a teenager, two of my friends and I were driving around in my mother’s Volvo wagon and a Nissan Maxima t-boned us at around 50 mph. No injuries for us and the drunk guy in the Maxima went to the hospital with a concussion and a broken collarbone. And he had his seatbelt on.

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