Where Should You Put Your Car Seat?

put your car seat center rear

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.)

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.

common car seat mistakes where to put your car seatWe 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:

  1. Put the newborn in the center rear seating position as the baby is the most vulnerable in a crash.
  2. 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:

  1. The majority of crashes are frontal impact crashes.
  2. Being in the center rear seat is most beneficial of the more rare but more dangerous side impact crashes.
  3. 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

RideSafer travel car seatMuch 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

Copyright 2015 Safe Ride 4 Kids. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

54 Comments
  • Shelita Prioleau
    Posted at 05:49h, 26 December Reply

    I just got a 2015 Nissan Pathfinder & my wide Graco rear facing carseat doesn’t seem to be securely fastened in the center. It tilts, shifts & wobbles in the center as we drive. In my 2011 Toyota Camry it was secure in the center of the back seat, but now it’s not.
    Will my little one be safer being placed on the outer side?

    • Amie
      Posted at 17:11h, 26 December Reply

      Hi Shelita, It would be safer to install the seat on the one of the sides rather than the middle IF you cannot get a good/correct install in the center seating position.

      Have you contacted a local CPS technician to take a look? Sometimes we have little tips that can make it work but it can be dependent on each particular situation. You can go here to find a technician near you to meet with.

      And if you do place your child’s seat on one of the outside seats, please consider if you ever park on the street. If you do park on the street often, you may want to think about putting the car seat on the passenger side so you are on not in the street putting your child in the car seat.

      • Julie
        Posted at 00:29h, 05 June Reply

        What is a CPS technician?

        • Amie
          Posted at 00:30h, 05 June Reply

          CPS technician = Child Passenger Safety technician.

    • Mary
      Posted at 13:51h, 25 September Reply

      I have a SUV, had an Explorer and now have Grand Cherokee, and I found if I reclined the 2nd row back a little the car seats fit on the seat better.

  • Conrad Hamilton
    Posted at 07:54h, 07 February Reply

    What if all 3 children have made it and i am pregnant with twins? Can i train my oldest child to drive a seperate car for the two older children and I follow closely behind with the twins? What if our second vehicle is only a two-seater? HELP IM CONFUSED.

    • Amie
      Posted at 14:22h, 07 February Reply

      Hi Conrad, We would love to help you figure this out. However there are other variables (ages, vehicles, etc.) to include to come to the best answer for you and your family. Please contact our customer service via 844.421.SAFE (7233) #700 to talk directly with a CPS Tech.

  • Makacha White
    Posted at 18:54h, 10 March Reply

    I went to a safety class and then I found this article. Would you consider moving your carseat and your mother”s?? I’ve moved my carseat as well to the center because it’s safer for Braelyn

  • Jenn C.
    Posted at 15:22h, 05 May Reply

    Ok, so I have a 3year old toddler in a front facing convertible carseat (maxi cosi) and I’m pregnant (due any day) with baby#3. I have a 2015 toyota sienna van so my eldest who is 12 can sit in the 3rd row. Just to be clear… where do I put my toddlers carseat and the newborn carseat for maximum safety? Help please.

    • Amie
      Posted at 22:12h, 05 May Reply

      Hi Jenn, My web search shows the 2015 Sienna could come with captains chairs or whole second row. Which do you have? There are several variables to take into consideration depending on the seating configuration of your car and your family needs. You can visit a local CPS technician or you can call our CEO/CPS tech of 16 years so he can ask you more specific questions. You can reach him at 844-421-SAFE (7233) #700.

  • Kelly Vance Whyte
    Posted at 08:42h, 13 May Reply

    I have a mustang convertible the rear facing car seat my 7 month in rides below the wind and I cover her with a tinted mesh cover to provide sunshade., and further reduce breeze…. I don’t know anyone else with a convertible who transports a child. Is this legal?

    • Amie
      Posted at 19:28h, 13 May Reply

      Hello Kelly, I would say that there is likely nothing specifically in the legal code that would identify this one action as “legal or illegal”. With that being said, your child restraint (car seat) manufacturer might have a statement in the instructions that would state that “no other products shall be added to the seat” or something similar to that and then your actions may fall into the category of “Not using according to manufacturer instructions”. But, what you seem to be describing does, not sound like any more than putting a sheet or blanket over the top of the seat after it and your child are properly restrained. That is typically a non issue from a safety perspective. We want to avoid adding thick clothing and bulk under the harness but generally allow blanket/coats to be added once the child is securely harnessed. If there are any components to the sun shade that are hard plastic or that you generally would not want flying around in a crash striking you or your baby, than you will likely not want to use it or modify it until there is nothing that is of concern.

  • camille y
    Posted at 12:05h, 10 June Reply

    So, I can put my 23 pound 1 year old in his car seat in one of 2 positions: on the side and rear facing, or in the center forward facing. is one of those options better? (I know center-rear facing would be the best, but I can’t find a car seat that will accommodate my husband’s long legs and the rear-facing car seat)

    • Amie
      Posted at 12:09h, 10 June Reply

      It is 5 times safer to be rear-facing. We would definitely recommend to keep your child rear facing at least until he’s 2 years old, preferably longer. So if you need to have your child in the side to keep him rear facing that is what we would suggest.

      • brit soleil
        Posted at 08:20h, 22 June Reply

        My friend had an issue with her 2 year old with the rear facing he is tall and his legs are long. She started to forward face him because she thinks his legs were hurting not being able to stretch his legs. Is that ok.

        • Amie
          Posted at 10:04h, 22 June Reply

          Many parents turn their child too early because they think the child must be uncomfortable with legs having to bend. In reality children are very flexible and like to sit in all kinds of positions often finding criss-cross very comfortable. And children can straighten their legs up the back of the seat no problem to stretch. While we do recommend to keep a child rear facing as long as possible, your friend’s child is 2. Car seat experts and the American Academy of Pediatricians suggest rear facing until at least age 2. She has met the minimum.

  • Chad Gunter
    Posted at 19:19h, 17 July Reply

    I have a 2014 model minivan with 3 rows. In both the 2nd and 3rd rows, there are 3 seats each, making a total of 8 seats in the minivan. I have 2 young children that I want in the safest spots in my minivan. I currently have them each in a middle seat in the 2nd and 3rd row. My reasoning behind this is, that in a side impact, neither of them is right up against a possible point of impact, with little crush space. Even in the 3rd row of my minivan, there is at least 2 feet of crush or crumple space in the event of a rear impact., before reaching the area my child is sitting. Iwould like to know if this is the best thing to do. I’ve researched a good bit and found that the 3rd row in my vehicle (Honda odyssey) is sheltered by the occupant safety cage and does have some space that is allowed for the crumple zone, unlike a side impact where an occupant is right against the door, with little or no crush or crumple space. Any other info anyone has or thoughts would be appreciated. Thank you – Chad

    • Amie
      Posted at 21:07h, 17 July Reply

      Hi Chad. Typically the third row seat is over the rear axle of the vehicle which offers additional side-impact protection. Some would say, as most collisions are forward impact, being closer to the rear of the vehicle offers slightly less protection in the event of a rear-end collision. Though you are still over the axle and would have trunk space (is it called trunk space in a minivan?) between the point of impact and the third row seat where your child is. We think you have your children in the two safest spots in your vehicle.

  • Chad Gunter
    Posted at 05:08h, 18 July Reply

    Amie – Thank you very much! Chad

  • Hg
    Posted at 20:56h, 23 July Reply

    My child is 4 and switching to a booster seat with back. Is it best to place this booster seat in the center? It fits fine but seems to be designed for an outside seat.

    • Amie
      Posted at 17:07h, 24 July Reply

      As with most things, it depends. If it fits in the car fine and the booster positions the seat belt correctly (shoulder portion mid-chest/mid-shoulder and lap portion on upper thighs and hips) then it should be fine in the center seating position. Be sure to read both the seat manual and the car manual just to make sure it doesn’t say anything differently in there. If you are feeling unsure still, it may be best to visit with a CPS technician in person. To find one near you click here.

  • Michelle Zilka
    Posted at 06:55h, 29 July Reply

    I have three kids and getting ready to move seats into our truck for a trip. 10 yr old (no seat), 6 yr old (bottom booster base) and 1 yr old (20ish lbs, rear facing convertible). Last time I had my 6 yr old in the center, she seemed to high up so wondering who would be safest there as the center also has the smaller type seat. We are going in a 2500 Dodge Ram pickup. Thanks

    • Amie
      Posted at 09:19h, 29 July Reply

      Hi Michelle, You want to be sure there is seat or a head rest behind the older children’s heads. Does the rear facing convertible fit properly in the center seat? Is there a head rest on the side seats for the older children? You can visit a local CPS technician or you can call our CEO/CPS tech of 16 years so he can ask you more specific questions. You can reach him at 844-421-SAFE (7233) #700.

  • Jennifer Kinnebrew
    Posted at 10:32h, 12 August Reply

    We currently have three kids and expecting our fourth. We have a 2013 Toyota Sienna and unsure how to make things work so everyone is safe. When new baby gets here we will have a 5 yr old, 2.5 year old, 1 yr old and newborn. 5 yr old is well above weight and height limit to be in a booster but I want to keep him harnessed problem is there is only one top tether in the 3rd row. The other two top tethers are in the captain chairs and I was going to keep the rear facing 1 yr old and new born in those chairs. HELP!!!!! We cannot get a new car we have to make this work not sure how but we have to.

    • Amie
      Posted at 09:43h, 14 August Reply

      One option would be to use a RideSafer 2 harness vest for the 5yo in the 3rd row with a RideSafer EATAL to create an additional tether anchor for the tether strap. To talk this through further and find other options, please call our CEO/CPS tech instructor of 16 years so he can ask you more specific questions. You can reach him at 844-421-SAFE (7233) #700.

  • Elizabeth
    Posted at 09:52h, 24 August Reply

    May I have the pediatrics article citation? My child’s preschool is asking that carseats be placed in right rear as that is safer for the child. Safer in Podunk, maybe but not in our metropolitan area..

    Thanks in advance!

    • Amie
      Posted at 11:35h, 24 August Reply

      The abstract (or summary) of the study published in Pediatrics can be found here. The specific quote is, “Child occupants seated in the center had an injury risk 43% less than children seated in either of the rear outboard positions.” Some schools that do a drive-by kind of drop off may prefer children riding in the right back seat for ease of getting kids out of the car quickly.

  • Ashley
    Posted at 12:52h, 11 December Reply

    So in a minivan that has captains chairs in the second row and then a full set of 3 seats in the 3rd row, which is safer? One of the captains chairs or the middle seat of the 3rd row?

    • Amie
      Posted at 12:02h, 12 December Reply

      Typically the third row seat is over the rear axle of the vehicle which offers additional side-impact protection. Some would say, as most collisions are forward impact, being closer to the rear of the vehicle offers slightly less protection in the event of a rear-end collision. Though you are still over the axle and would have trunk space between the point of impact and the third row seat where your child is. We would say the safest would be the middle of the 3rd row. That said, it may not be the most convenient. Depending on your vehicle’s built-in side impact protection the captain’s chairs also may offer a safe place to put your child’s car seat.

  • Tara Myers
    Posted at 14:27h, 02 January Reply

    What’s second safest place for a child? I know center is the safest.

    • Amie
      Posted at 16:21h, 02 January Reply

      It depends.
      Do you do school drop off? Which side?
      Do you often park on the street? We typically recommend, if you do, to have the child on the passenger side so you are putting your child in the car seat from the sidewalk not the street.
      Can the car seat fit behind the driver? Typically a question when the driver is tall.
      Some also say the passenger side is better because you’re more likely to see oncoming cars about to hit you side on. But there is only a difference of about 1% in the percentage of drivers side to passenger side impacts. Front impacts are the most common type of crash.

  • Christina DiPersia
    Posted at 23:54h, 05 January Reply

    Thank you for your article. One can always agree to disagree, but I disagree that the infant should be in the center seat, rear facing, if they can be placed there. The most vulnerable child is going to be the forward-facing one – your statistics mentioned that. Secondly, you also mentioned that the most common crashes are front impact (and followed by rear-ending); it doesn’t make sense to me to have the child who is forward-facing and at a disadvantage to be on the side while the rear-facing infant is in the middle. Especially when side impact crashes are less common, it just seems to make more sense logically, to give each child a fair shot, to have the forward facing child in the middle. I would love to keep my 3 and a half year old rear-facing even after her sister is born in a few months, but I just can’t take the room in my car of 2 rear-facing seats. I’m really not looking forward to switching her around :(

  • Juliana
    Posted at 19:48h, 07 January Reply

    I’m confused about the street parking notes in this article. We park pretty much exclusively on the street and I paralell park from either side, so there is no way to tell which side will be facing the street. I just realized this is because we are dealing primarily with one way streets in the city where I live. If they were two way, I guess this wouldn’t be the case, but I would think the a lot of people who are dealing with lots of street parking also deal more with one way streets.

    • Amie
      Posted at 21:43h, 08 January Reply

      I guess it depends on where you live. We mostly street park also. We have more two-way streets than one-way streets near us. You are right, on one-way streets you could be on either side so it would be more challenging to figure out which side to put the car seat on.

  • Krista
    Posted at 03:14h, 18 March Reply

    We have a third child on the way, and I was wondering if it would be safe to put the infant car seat in the center rear of our 2006 Dodge Ram cause the middle seat isn’t a full seat so the car seat would hang off just a little, is that okay as long as it’s latched properly?

    • Amie
      Posted at 11:41h, 20 March Reply

      You’ll need to check with the manufacturer for your car seat. Most car seats need to be at least 80% on the vehicle seat. (20% is allowed to be off.) Depending on how much is hanging off and how much your manufacturer allows, you may need to look at getting another seat, perhaps one with a load-bearing leg like the Cybex Aton.

  • Gab
    Posted at 09:09h, 23 March Reply

    I have a van we don’t have middle seat. We only have the far backseats with the middle seat. Should I place my child that far back?

    • Amie
      Posted at 11:26h, 23 March Reply

      That’s going to be a parental choice. The center of the far back seat is still the center of the car and typically over the rear axle which offers some benefit in side impact crashes. It does put your child closer to a rear impact crash; though there is usually at least some trunk space to take some of the crash energy. And it does put your child farther from you so it does take away some convenience.

  • Jaime Warren
    Posted at 18:55h, 02 May Reply

    Hi. I have a ford smax and three kids. Two of them are in high back booster seats (maxi cosi rodi air protect) and the youngest is in an extended rear seat (besafe) The extended rear seat cannot be placed in the centre back (as advised by the manufacturer). Is it safe to put it behind the passenger seat? The eldest child (7 yrs) behind the driver and the 4 year old in the middle? What do you think?

    • Amie
      Posted at 20:06h, 02 May Reply

      Hi Jaime, Which BeSafe seat do you have? I looked at some of the manuals and didn’t see where it says to put it in the center seat. Is it advised or required? Since the center seat is the safest, that may be why they are advising it for a car seat installation. However when trying to fit 3 children in the back, they obviously can’t all be in the center. If your car seats fit and the rear facing seat isn’t “required” to be in the center then the configuration you are suggesting would be what we would suggest also.

  • Kayla G
    Posted at 13:02h, 09 May Reply

    Hi we are expecting our third child. I have a 2006 Ford F-150 I was thinking of having my older two who are now both front facing (5 and almost 3)behind the drivers (5yr old) side and middle (the almost 3 yr old) then the infant behind the passengers side…? Any advice? Thank you for the article!

    • Amie
      Posted at 14:00h, 09 May Reply

      Of course there is no one answer as it is situation dependent; vehicle and family dynamics. For instance, we had our youngest rear facing in the middle between our two older children who are close in age and prone to arguing until said youngest child starting kicking them in the face and he had to get turned around earlier than we planned.

      Are both the 5yo and 3yo in a forward-facing 5-point harness seat or is the 5yo in a booster seat? If both are in a 5-point harness, the 3yo would be the less protected/most vulnerable of the 3 and some would suggest should be in the center seat as you mentioned. If the 5yo is in a booster seat, the 5yo is the least protected and should be in the center seat assuming it has a lap-shoulder belt. Then there is the school of thought that the infant is most vulnerable due to age and development, regardless that the infant will be in a rear-facing seat which is 5x safer than forward-facing, and therefore should be in the center seat.

      Then there is also the question of, in what configuration will all the seats fit properly installed? Is there a configuration that fits better than another? Will the infant seat need to be in the center because of the width of the two forward-facing seats next to each other make them twist a bit?

      You are welcome to call so we can get into more details about your car seats and family or visit with a local CPS technician. Find a local tech here.

  • Louise Under
    Posted at 06:59h, 24 May Reply

    This is really interesting. I assumed the centre seat was the safest as most people would due to side impact. But what I spoke to halfords, they said they strongly disagreed to use the centre seat…. Maybe it was the type of seat I chose I am not too sure.

    • Amie
      Posted at 15:01h, 24 May Reply

      What we’ve found in the U.S. is just because a store sells car seats doesn’t mean their staff is trained on car seat safety. While shopping we’ve heard many sales reps give parents poor information and advice. Yes, as CPS technicians, we will step into the conversation. That said some other parents in the UK have mentioned their car seat manual said to place it on the side. (I have not seen the manual nor could I find information about it online to verify.) And some cars have a center position that is not compatible with installing a car seat.

  • Tali
    Posted at 21:19h, 28 June Reply

    Would you also recommend the back seat in a mini car such as a Kia picanto?

    • Amie
      Posted at 23:29h, 28 June Reply

      Yes as most crashes are front impact crashes, the back seat is still safer in mini cars.

      In general about mini car safety, Edmunds says, “New small cars are safer than they’ve ever been, but new larger, heavier vehicles are still safer than small ones. It’s a matter of physics: Bigger and heavier is safer than smaller and lighter. Large vehicles weigh more and have longer hoods and bigger crush zones, which gives them an advantage in frontal crashes.”

  • Kristy lee
    Posted at 23:33h, 30 August Reply

    Hi I was wondering if you could help me, I have a baby on the way that will be in a capsule, a 4 year old in a car seat and my eldest no car seat , where should I put them? I have a Mazda 3 , thank you

    • Amie
      Posted at 14:32h, 31 August Reply

      That depends on your view of who is the most vulnerable child. Most safety experts either say either the youngest child because they are the least physically developed or the older child who does not have the additional protection of a child restraint. The “most vulnerable” child should be seated in the center seating position. Without knowing age of the oldest or what type of car seat (5-point harness? rear or forward facing? or booster?) the 4 year old is in and other specifics, we can’t really say what will be best for your situation. We recommend visiting a certified car seat technician near you to go over everything in person.

  • Valerie Johnston
    Posted at 21:24h, 11 September Reply

    I was wondering what the safety rules are regarding car seats in trucks with no back seat? I’ve put my first child in the middle, rear-facing in an emergency before (like a high fever and needing to bring her to the hospital) but it’s not something that we do regularly by any means. However, we are planning to have another child and I didn’t know if I could put two car seats in the front of a truck if I had to, or if even the one was okay?

    • Amie
      Posted at 13:28h, 12 September Reply

      Sometimes you have to do what you have to do. Is the truck the only vehicle you have available? Are there enough seat belts to properly install the car seats? Is there an airbag at the passenger seat? Can you turn it off? Do you ever need to travel with a passenger in addition to the two children in car seats? These are all questions to consider when traveling with a child who requires a child restraint in a single cab pickup. We would recommend taking your truck and seats available to a local child passenger safety technician to discuss your situation in person. You can find a local tech through this link.

  • Karrie
    Posted at 21:02h, 12 September Reply

    Hello. Thank you for your time.

    We just purchased a honda pilot 2005… i have 3 children 9 year old no seat, 4 year old 5 pt harness high back booster ( front facing ) ( hes 38 lbs) and a 15 month old in a rear facing convertable. The pilot has a center lap belt and no metal U clips … is it okay to attach to the outer seat U clips or sufficant using the lap belt? Or one of the side seats? ( During winter it is really hard to take baby in and out of passenger side because of snowbank. Also the rear 3 seats fold down and you access them through the middle row passenger side seat. So i thought for convience id place my 9 year old there? And my 4 year old behind the driver side… or should the forward facing 4 year old be in center? i hope they fit well in this bigger suv….

    • Amie
      Posted at 11:54h, 16 September Reply

      They should fit great in the Pilot. We have a little bit newer model and 3 kids. The oldest sits in the third row unless we’re hauling a full load of gear in the back.

      Installing the rear-facing in the center seat with a lap belt is great, do not use the Lower Anchors from the outboard seats in the center. In most cars it’s not allowed and the lap belt is just as easy to use for installation. As we mentioned in the article, we lean more toward the younger child being the more vulnerable school of thought and choose to put the younger child in the middle.

  • Micah Dames
    Posted at 16:37h, 06 October Reply

    I have a 15 mo old and another due anytime. 15 mo old is currently rear facing in center. My husband suggested leaving her seat there and putting the infant seat on the rear passenger side so that we’d be able to get the older one in her seat from the sidewalk before clicking the infant seat in place. It seems like placing the newborn in the center would be safest, but logistically this seems like it would cause issues when trying to remove the infant seat and would force us to put one kid in from one side of the car and the other in from the opposite side. Thoughts?

    • Amie
      Posted at 18:15h, 06 October Reply

      Especially since both of your children are in rear-facing car seats, we would recommend the infant be in the safer center seating position. Even if you have to put the carrier in from the driver side and park on the street, putting the infant seat in the base is quick; just be mindful of traffic.

Post A Comment