How an astronaut transformed child safety in cars

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Volvo Cars early car seat
Volvo Cars early car seat
Volvo Cars

Many people don't realise that one of the greatest ever achievements in mobility actually happened way back in 1962 – and it's all thanks to astronaut John H. Glenn Jr!

The achievement to which we refer is the development of the rearward-facing child safety seat, and it was conceived by Swedish professor Bertil Aldman. He drew inspiration from Glenn's orbit around the earth in the Mercury spacecraft in 1962. It was a momentous occasion in history; it marked the first time that an American had circled the earth in space. 

However, what struck him was the announcement by NBC that, "once in flight, the Mercury will be tilted, so that the astronaut will ride backwards". That single sentence sparked the idea that has saved the lives of thousands of children all over the world.

It took the brilliant professor, inspired by NASA, to understand that a child's anatomy is vastly different from an adult. Aldman figured out that the best way of protecting a child in the event of a car accident is to support the head and minimise the neck's movements. This realisation transformed road safety for children. It is also the reason why only nine children under the age of 18 died in road traffic accidents in Sweden last year.

Fast forward to 1972 and yet another milestone in mobility occurred: Volvo Cars invented the world's first rearward-facing child seat. 

volvo car seat
A Volvo rearward facing child seat
volvo car seat
A Volvo rearward facing child seat

"This is one of many safety inventions by the company. Volvo invented the three-point safety seatbelt as well as the booster seat," reveals Charmagne Mavudzi, Head of Customer Experience at Volvo Car South Africa.

But, of course, inventions amount to little if they're not actually utilised. And, sadly, many parents continue to transport their children incorrectly. 

"Children up to four need to travel rearward-facing in cars, simply because their neck is too weak to support the head. So, you need to protect them," advises Dr Lotta Jackobsson, a world-leading child traffic safety expert with a PhD in Traffic Safety. She is currently the Senior Technical Specialist in Injury Prevention at Volvo Cars.

Volvo has particular recommendations when it comes to transporting children in cars, which is especially important whilst travelling over the festive season:

• Baby car seat: 0 to 9 months old or until the child can sit steadily. Weights up to 13kg.
• Rear-facing child safety seat: around seven months to four years old, or until the child's head reaches the edge of the child safety seat. Weighs from 9 to 25kg.
• Booster seat/booster cushion: four to 10/12 years old, or until the child is taller than 135cm. Weighs from 15 to 36kg.

Mavudzi urges South Africans to follow these recommendations: "The global rate of road traffic death is 18.2 per 100 000 population. The rate in South Africa is 25.9 per 100 000 population. This is extremely high.

"It is vital for South Africans to start travelling differently and better," she concludes.

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