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.
(Wow, that was a short post… OK I’ll give you more.)
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.
It was found that 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.
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 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.
Note on LATCH
Often cars have LATCH for the two side 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.
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 5 times 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. 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 5 times 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.
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.
So all children should remain in the back seat of the car until they are driving. No really. They should. As best practice, CPS technicians recommend keeping kids in the back seat until they are a minimum of 13 years old. Yup, sorry tweens.
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
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