Last month, Volvo introduced their Excellence Child Seat Concept in Sweden, which reimagines the front seat of passenger vehicles to allow for a restrained, rear-seated child passenger. In the concept, which is not available in commercial Volvo vehicles, the front passenger seat swivels to aid the parent in securing the child into a child restraint system (CRS), and then swivels to position the child rear-facing in the vehicle.
The Excellence Child Seat Concept not only illustrates a new idea that designs a vehicle interior around child passengers, but also highlights the differences in child passenger safety (CPS) best practices between the US and Sweden. As CIRP@CHOP co-scientific director Kristy Arbogast, PhD previously blogged, Sweden has long been a CPS leader, with the first rear-facing child seat developed by Bertil Aldman of Chalmers University in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1964.
Over time, a combination of legislation and awareness campaigns has resulted in a nearly 100% compliance rate for restraining children in motor vehicles according to Swedish best practice recommendations: restrained in rear-facing child restraint systems (CRS) until at least age 4 years, and then transitioned directly into belt-positioning booster seats up to 10-12 years of age.
Notably, it is also Swedish best practice to restrain children under the age of 4 rear-facing in the front passenger seat of vehicles with the air bag disabled.
This is in contrast to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ best practice recommendations in the US, which recommends that all children under the age of 13 years should ride in the rear seat of passenger vehicles. Air bag disabling is not common practice in the US as technology to easily switch the air bag off is not available as standard equipment in most vehicles of two or more rows. Coupled with the fact that US data shows an elevated risk of injury ranging from 40 to 70 percent for children in the front seat compared with children seated in the rear, with the right front seat containing an active air bag, the US recommendation remains rear seating for all children, most importantly those in rear-facing restraints. Therefore, children should remain seated in the rear seat of passenger vehicles in the proper restraint type for their weight and height in US vehicles.
This new design concept also sheds an interesting light on the safety of the front seat versus the rear. CHOP’s Director of Translational Research, Dennis Durbin, MD, MSCE, recently led a research study identifying who sits in the back seat and their relative risk of injury or fatality in newer model year passenger vehicles. While the rear seat remains the safest place for child passengers, the results showed that the front seat has started to “catch up” to the rear seat in terms of a child passenger’s relative safety. As Dr. Durbin blogged: "To make further advances in rear seat safety, engineers will need to consider adapting the front seat’s advanced technologies for the rear seat, as well as consider optimal geometry for the rear seat."
The Excellence Child Seat Concept turns this notion on its head—instead of bringing safety advances from the front seat into the rear, Volvo’s designers have redesigned the front seat to better accommodate a child passenger. It is amazing progress to see a vehicle designed around and for child passengers. I commend Volvo’s engineers for their innovative approach, and look forward to seeing if and how this concept translates to vehicle design in the US.