At a glance
With growing emphasis on duty of care and corporate social responsibility, some fleets are starting to look after the rest of the family, and last year Fleet News also reported on driver training for the wives or husbands of company car drivers by Drive-Tech (Fleet News, August 8, 2006).
It’s not just spouses who travel in company cars. Your staff probably have young families too but are the drivers of your cars versed in how to ensure the safety of their offspring?
If anyone knows the best way to keep kids safe, it’s the Swedes.
Sweden is the world capital of road safety and has one of the lowest death rates for children in the world. There has been a continuing decline in Swedish road fatalities since 1970. In 2006, there were just 445.
This low rate can be at least part attributed to Volvo, which has researched child safety for more than 30 years. It works with a number of organisations to keep that research going, including governmental organisations and hospitals. It also has its own in-house experts.
Most people will be aware of child seats but according to Swedish experts the type of child seat can make a big difference.
Forward-facing child seats are rarely seen in Sweden – virtually all of them are designed to face backwards.
This means that in most accidents the child’s head is not thrown forward, reducing stress on the neck.
“The child leans against the seat and the seat leans against the dashboard, so high forces can’t be generated against the head and spine,” says Anders Lie, vehicle safety specialist for the Swedish Road Administration (SRA) and a member of the EuroNCAP board.
Mr Lie recommends that children use a rear-facing seat for as long as possible. The front seat is the best place to put them – as long as the passenger airbag can be switched off.
“Children should be in a rearward facing seat until the age of about four,” he says.
“The front seat has a larger space for the legs and feet.
“Whenever you turn a child from rearward facing to forward facing you are always increasing the risk.”
Child safety is so ingrained into the country’s culture that the SRA buys child safety equipment for all its fleet cars even if the drivers don’t use it. That way future users of the cars will benefit.
Once they have grown too large for a child safety seat, a booster cushion is must.
“The most at-risk children in cars are aged 0-5 and 10-14,” says Mr Lie. “From six to nine, when they use a booster seat, we see higher protection.”
Booster seats raise the pelvis to help reduce the pressure of the lap belt on the unprotected part of the abdomen.
They also raise the child up to take the shoulder belt away from the neck and make it more comfortable.
Booster cushions are recommended for all children until puberty.
Kids are not simply smal adults
Key to understanding how to keep children safe is understanding them and the way they are built.
“Children differ in psychology, physiology and anatomy – they are differently proportioned to adults,” says Dr Lena Franzen, an expert in major trauma in children at the Queen Silva Children’s Hospital in Gothenburg.
“A child’s head is much larger relative to its body than an adult’s but it has a weak neck. The paediatric cervical spine is more elastic than that of adults and the muscles supporting the neck are weaker. The adult neck will support the head if it’s thrown forward, but a child’s neck will not.”
Dr Franzen says injury, rather than disease, is the leading killer of one to 14-year-olds and traffic is the main cause of injury.
“Children under eight usually have upper neck injuries,” she says. “Older children will have more adult biomechanics and are prone to lower neck injuries.
“Additionally, children have less fat and tissue, a higher rib cage and a differently-shaped pelvis, as well as less developed abdominal muscles. All of this affords less protection to internal organs.”
In a crash the belt will compress the soft tissue, causing what experts call a ‘lap belt sign’ – a contusion across the torso.
“This can cause the vertebrae column and spine to break or other internal organ injuries, most commonly to the liver or spleen,” says Dr Franzen.
“In children, internal organs are in close relative proximity which predisposes multi-organ injuries.”