Where Should You Put Your Car Seat?
You are getting ready for your first baby, YAY! And now you need to know where to put your car seat in the car.
The safest place to put your car seat in the car (or for anyone to sit in the car) is the center of the back seat.
Done. (Wow, that was a short post… OK, I’ll give you more.)
Where to put your car seat: Center or Side Seat?
A study published in Pediatrics, showed for children newborn to 3 years old sitting in the center rear seat is 43% safer than sitting on the side in the back.
While the rear center seat may be the safest location for all types of crashes, it’s not always possible to get a good install in that seating position. A secure install in a side seat would be better than a poor install in the center seat. So first thing first, make sure you have a proper car seat installation in whatever seat you can. If you can get a proper install in all of the rear seating positions, we would recommend using the center seat.
The above study also found the most common location in the vehicle for a car seat was the rear passenger side (41% of parents put the child’s car seat here). Perhaps this is for ease of access and keeping an eye on the baby. We’re not sure why so many parents put your car seat there. If we’re were installing in a side seat, we would choose this side first.
We often told new parents at the hospital, the center is the safest. But if they couldn’t get the car seat to install properly in the center OR they really wanted to use LATCH to install but couldn’t in the center OR mom just had a cesarean and didn’t feel she could lean over to put baby in the center seat, then to put baby on the passenger side. We said the passenger side in case they ever have to park on the street, they are on the sidewalk side of the car putting baby in the car seat.
A Note on LATCH
Often cars have LATCH for the two outboard seating positions in the back seat. Many times you cannot use one lower anchor from each side to install a car seat using LATCH in the center. (Every car is different and you need to read the owner’s manual for the vehicle.)
If this is the case in your car, you can use the seat belt to install the car seat in the center position even if it is a lap-only seat belt. (This is less and less common.)
No, LATCH does not equal safer.
The purpose of LATCH was in hopes to make installing a car seat easier for parents. Personally, I think in many ways it backfired as it added more options to confuse matters.
My first child made it safe and sound in the center but now I have child number 2 on the way
There are two schools of thought here:
- Put the newborn in the center rear seating position as the baby is the most vulnerable in a crash.
- Put an older forward-facing child, assuming the older child is forward facing, in the center seat since rear-facing children are inherently safer in their rear-facing seat.
We are on the school of thought of number 1; put the most vulnerable, ie. youngest child, in the center. Though with new side-impact technology being built into car seats, we can see reasoning for number 2. A short lesson on crash dynamics which affect this decision:
- The majority of crashes are frontal impact crashes.
- Being in the center rear seat is most beneficial of the more rare but more dangerous side impact crashes.
- Being in a rear-facing car seat is safer if the crash is front impact as the child’s head, neck and back are all being supported during the crash. It would stand to reason, the benefits of being in a rear-facing seat are less significant in a side impact crash.
There are often other variables involved so if there is any question, we recommend asking a Child Passenger Safety Technician, preferably in-person with your car.
Wait. I can’t fit my infant car seat and my forward-facing convertible seat right next to each other.
If you can’t fit two seats right next to each other, you will have to use the two outside seats. There isn’t really a preferred side for the infant as far as crash safety is concerned. There is virtually no difference between driver’s side and passenger side in crash statistics.
One thing you may think about is, again, if you ever street park. If you do, you may want to put the child who takes the longest to get buckled in on the passenger side so you are in the street with the door open for as little time as possible.
For instance, say you have a child in an infant carrier with a base in the car and a toddler in a rear-facing 5-point harness. You can get a proper install on both seats in either side position. The infant carrier is a quick pop in and lock into base. Whereas the toddler has to climb or be put into the seat and buckled. We would recommend putting the toddler on the passenger side so you are on the sidewalk with your door open putting your child in the car seat instead of in the street.
YAY! Both my children have been safe in the back seat but HELP number 3 is on the way
Much the same answer as going from one car seat to two in your vehicle. The challenge here often becomes whether or not 3 car seats will fit across the rear seat in your car.
There are many narrow car seats on the market and the RideSafer vests to help in this situation. (Click here to get more information about the RideSafer Travel Vest. Psst, they are great for travel or carpools too!)
What about my older kids who are not in a car seat anymore?
The back seat is the safer place to ride in the car for anyone. Period.
All children should remain in the back seat of the car until they are driving. OK, OK. Not really, but close. As best practice, CPS technicians recommend keeping kids in the back seat until they are a minimum of 13 years old. Yup, sorry tweens. Our daughter is almost 14 now and still prefers to ride in the back seat, so there’s that.
Was this helpful information? Where do you put your car seat in your car? Share your comments below.
By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004
Copyright 2021 Safe Ride 4 Kids. All rights reserved. You may not publish, broadcast, rewrite or redistribute this material without permission. You are welcome to link to Safe Ride 4 Kids or share on social media.
We originally published this post in February 2015. We updated the article for accuracy and comprehensiveness.