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Volvo’s child safety expert explains car safety for new babies and parents

Volvo’s child safety expert explains car safety for new babies and parents
Tristan Honeywill

Lotta Jakobsson is one of the most respected names in car safety. A senior safety specialist at Volvo and a professor at Chalmers University in Sweden, Lotta has spent her career investigating children’s crash injuries and working on innovations to make it easier for parents to keep their kids safe. For parents who want to be sure they’re doing things right, who better to ask?


How does being a safety expert affect the way that you raise your kids?

My children have grown up now, but when they were young my car was full of child seats not only for my own kids but also with spares if I had to carry someone else’s kids. For me, there was no alternative. I would never think of taking one of their friends along without having a proper child restraint for the child.

Even in private, I’m very focused on safety. My kids still have to sit up straight in the car. They’re not even allowed to slouch across the back to sleep. You never know when there could be an accident. When it does, it has to happen properly.

Car crashes probably happen less often these days and children are probably much safer than we were growing up. How seriously do people really need to take safety?

Well, it is a big issue still. If you’re in a crash, it makes a huge difference if you’re restrained or not. Countries like Sweden have a very high usage rate for child seats – most kids travel with child restraints most of the time. We should all try to eliminate the times that parents don’t use the child restraint for any reason.

The car seat has to be connected, not just placed in the car. Seats are only safe if they are used correctly

OK, so how important is the first car journey with the baby and how do you plan for it? I guess the younger the baby, the more vulnerable they are.

It’s extremely important. If the car is moving, the child is unprotected unless they are in a child restraint. We are not strong enough to hold the child in our arms if we’re in a crash. Even at an impact speed of 10km/h (6mph) people will drop the child. The risk of injury and serious consequences is then high.

Some people don’t like the idea of having the child on the back seat by themselves. They think it’s cosier to have the child on their lap. That can be fixed by having two adults in the car with one sat in the back to comfort the child. You need to have the child restrained in a car seat in case of a crash. He or she will be injured otherwise. There is just no alternative.


Where does Volvo get its child car seats?

We used to produce our own, but these days we work closely with the child seat manufacturers because they’re really the experts on the product. We work with Britax and brand them Volvo. They can be used in any car but we have tested how well they integrate in our vehicles and we know their safety performance.


What’s the most important thing to remember when fitting a car seat?

Priority number one is to follow the instructions for fixing it into place in the car. It has to be connected, not just placed in the car. Seats are only safe if they are used correctly. With ISOFIX, the seat is attached more rigidly and you also get a confirmation that it is attached. Indicators turn from red to green.

There is usually an ISOFIX base. Most of the child seat manufacturers offer a base fitted with ISOFIX. You just take the child seat and dock it into the base in a similar way that you dock it into the stroller. It’s then rigidly attached in the car and it’s very easy for the parent as well. It’s about making safety as simple and user-friendly as possible. Easy solutions are the ones that will be used more so fewer children will go even short distances without child restraints.


Are children safer on the rear seats?

All seats can be just as safe, but if there is an airbag for the front passenger seat, it must be turned off. If there’s any doubt, then the child has to be in the rear of the car. If you can disconnect the airbag, then it’s actually easier to carry a rearwards facing child seat in the front seat. There is more legroom for the child because it’s a bigger seat. And if you’re alone in the car with a very young baby, you might want to have them beside you.


Everybody talks about Sweden keeping kids in rear-facing seats for longer. When is safest to turn your child around in the car?

Everybody around the world agrees new-borns should be rearwards facing. We have the facts that rearward facing is safest for up to three or four years old. For us, that means there’s no alternative and it’s been a tradition here for more than 40 years. Everybody does it so it’s not like in other countries where people say the child doesn’t like it. If there’s no alternative, you just do it every day.

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