Based on over 40 years of child safety research and development, Volvo's latest results highlight a number of simple guidelines that any parent or family member can follow to provide optimum protection for children when travelling in cars, irrespective of make or model.
Children and babies are not small versions of adults - and they need special restraints designed for their developing anatomies. Relative to the body, a child's head is large and heavy. The head of a newborn baby makes up half the total body weight, whereas an adult's head weighs only about six per cent of the total.
This oversized head - in combination with developing neck vertebrae, muscles and ligaments - is a child's weak point and is prone to injury in crashes. Another vulnerable area is the pelvis, which is underdeveloped and cannot hold the safety belt in position as easily as an adult's hip area, so child booster seats greatly improve the correct belt geometry.
Car safety for unborn children is an area that is not well documented, since foetal injury and death often do not show in statistics. Volvo is the only manufacturer to have engineered a pregnant crash test dummy to develop the company's understanding of the unique safety demands of unborn babies and their mothers further.
This virtual model, called Linda, mimics a pregnant woman and is used to simulate how both a pregnant woman and her unborn baby move in a frontal impact. Linda contains detailed information about the uterus, placenta, amniotic fluid and foetus in approximately the 36th week of pregnancy. She can be positioned in any car model and collisions can be simulated at different speeds.
The studies show that pregnant women benefit from the protection of a front airbag and also dispel the myth that seatbelts may harm the baby. Seatbelts must always be used during pregnancy and positioning correctly significantly reduces the risk of foetal injury risk.
Volvo research strongly suggests that infants should travel in rear-facing car seats until they are at least three or four years old.
During a frontal impact - normally the most frequent and usually the most severe impact situation - in a forward facing seat, the infant's body is restrained but its disproportionately large head is not, putting immense strain on the neck. When travelling in a rear-facing seat, the crash forces are spread over the back and head, which reduces the load on the neck and greatly decreases the chance of severe neck and spinal injury.
According to Volvo's investigations, a forward facing child seat provides around 80% better protection than if no child restraints are used, whereas a child in a rear-facing seat is approximately 90% less likely to be seriously injured in an accident.
Belts and boosters
The positioning of the safety belt is important so that the occupant is restrained over the body's stronger areas like the upper torso and pelvis - protecting the weaker parts of the body such as the abdomen.
The lap belt should be placed tightly across the pelvis, as low as possible towards the thighs and not over the soft tissue of the abdomen. The torso belt should run across the chest and also be pulled tight. It does not matter if the belt touches the neck. Never place the torso belt under the arm or behind the back.
A booster seat gives a child an increased height and directs the safety belt over the stronger parts of the body during a crash.
Child safety guide
Volvo has created a complete microsite dedicated to child safety information which includes short video guides and practical tips for parents and parents-to-be, as well as a free downloadable Children in Cars booklet. Visit the site at www.volvocars.co.uk/childsafety. A hard copy of the Children In Cars guide can also be requested by calling the Volvo Information Centre on 0800 400430.
During pregnancy, adjust the seat so you can reach the pedals comfortably with as much distance between your belly and the steering wheel as possible. Pull the lap belt over your thighs, buckle it in and pull tight. Make sure the lap belt does not run across the belly, but lies as flat as possible under the curve of the abdomen and sitting evenly on the left and right pelvic bones. Position the torso belt across your chest, between the breasts to the side of the belly and pull tight. Never tuck the shoulder belt under your arm or behind your back - that can hurt both you and the baby.
A newborn baby should use a rearward facing infant seat. Do not let the baby sit upright for too long, take frequent breaks and pick up the baby for a while or let it rest lying flat while the car is parked. Always deactivate the front passenger airbag if the child seat is positioned here.
An infant or toddler should be fastened in a rearward facing infant seat or a larger rearward facing child restraint until the child has outgrown the larger seat and is three-four years old. It does not matter if the child has to bend its legs or touches the backrest with its feet. Take regular breaks to let the child stretch and play. If the child is situated in a rear seat, fit an accessory mirror so that the child can see you, to reassure them and so that you can check on them easily and safely.
An older child who has outgrown the rear-facing seat but is shorter than 140cm and has not reached the age of 12, should use a booster cushion, which reduces the risk of injury to approximately 75% compared to being unrestrained.
Volvo's focus on child safety
"Cars are driven by people. The guiding principle behind everything we make at Volvo therefore, is - and must remain - safety." This was the statement made by Volvo founders Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson, and Volvo has relentlessly advanced automotive safety standards ever since.
All Volvo models have ISOFIX attachments as standard and all Volvo saloon, estate and cross country models offer integrated booster seats. The new Volvo V70 and XC70 estate models feature Volvo's latest innovation, a new dual stage integrated child booster seat, with two height positions ideal for growing families.
This child safety research would not have been possible without the company's state-of-the-art crash test laboratory at the Volvo Cars Safety Centre in Sweden. Housing a 154-metre fixed track and a 108-metre movable test track, which can be combined to recreate collisions with different impacts, angles and speeds, the Safety Centre uses a supercomputer as well as state of the art high-speed film cameras and crash simulators. In addition to 400 full-scale crash tests, thousands of virtual crashes are carried out by the laboratory's supercomputer each year.
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