Early in car prototype

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Child Safety in Cars: Volvo celebrates half a century of innovation

When there’s a baby on the way, after the initial excitement (or surprise) discussions will inevitably turn to child restraints.

Legal requirements and opinions regarding child safety in cars have changed over the years and Volvo has played quite a role in its history – from being involved in the development of the first child seat prototype 50 years ago, to the recent unveiling of an inflatable car seat concept.

Back in 1964 Swedish Professor Bertil Aldman was watching TV and noticed that the astronauts in the Gemini space capsule travelled backwards – facing opposite the direction of acceleration.

It dawned on the Professor that, in this position, the force created by a sudden change in forward momentum would be spread over a wider area. Based on this logic, and the laws of physics, in the event of a collision a young child in a rear-facing seat would fare better than if they were facing forward. The force spread across the back, rather than centralised around the neck area.

Volvo was heavily involved in the development of the prototype, and testing was carried out in a PV544. The Swedish carmaker still advocates for the use of rear-facing seats.

Professor Lotta Jakobsson, senior technical specialist at Volvo Cars Safety Centre, said children should travel backwards until three to four years of age, “The basic principle remains the same as 50 years ago. Older children should use a booster cushion or booster seat that makes sure the lap belt is correctly fitted over the pelvis.”

The release of the Volvo Amazon in 1967 marked another milestone, with a reversible front passenger seat fitted with a special child backrest available as an accessory.

The concept continued to grow and, five years later in 1972, the Swedish car maker developed its own rear-facing child seat, followed by a world first from Volvo in 1976 - the booster cushion.

To this day, booster seats play an integral role in keeping children safe in cars. Though there are slight variations, in most Australian children aged over 7 can legally be secured by an adult seatbelt, though Volvo encourages boosters being used for a longer period of time.

According to Volvo, once over the age of 3 or 4, children who sit facing forward should use a booster cushion until they are 140cm tall and 10 years old.

Many current Volvo models feature integrated booster seats; this world first feature was initially included in the 960 back in 1990.

Double integrated pop-up booster cushions were introduced in the S40 in 1995, and 1999 marked the arrival of the world’s first rearward-facing seat for ISOFIX. Both an infant and toddler seat could be fitted in the same ISOFIX frame.

But it didn’t stop there. A two-stage booster seat made its debut in the Volvo V70 Estate in 2007.

For every parent, the safety of their offspring is a constant concern and keeping up with changes and developments in this arena is par for the course.

The local landscape is looking likely to evolve. In June 2013, changes to the Australian/New Zealand Standard for child restraints (AS/NZS 1754) were approved, opening the door to ISOFIX compatible child restraints.

Despite ISOFIX only seats being acceptable in many other countries, legal requirements in Australia will see the ISOFIX fitting teamed with a top-tether.

The decision has sparked a storm of controversy, given that the current global standard finds ISOFIX, on it’s own, meets and exceeds safety regulations.

ISOFIX only seats are commonly used in many countries, yet here in Australia we’re likely to have to wait for ISOFIX plus top-tether seats to be produced by baby seat manufacturers. The ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) is yet to give its final stamp of approval to mandate the changes.

Even if this happens, it could still be 6 months before we see ISOFIX car seats hit the Aussie market, given that the combination of ISOFIX and top-tether isn’t seen anywhere in the world.

Many car seat manufacturers, including Britax, the company behind Safe-n-Sound, are expected to incorporate the new standard as soon as it’s mandated. But new models will take time to pass through the approval process before heading into full production and finally hitting our shelves.

Volvo has long been a vocal supporter of the use of ISOFIX car seats in Australia.

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