Installation manuals for new car seats explain how to use the seat in various positions, whether you’re using a seat belt or LATCH installation. But which seat within your car is the safest?
Let’s break seat placement down by the configuration of your vehicle’s seats.
Cars and Trucks with 2 Seats
The back seat is considerably safer for a child seat, so safety experts recommend against 2-seat cars for babies if they can be avoided.
However, if you must seat a child up front, be certain that you can first disable the passenger side air bag. Most cars have a switch in the glove box or on the dashboard to turn this airbag off. Consult the owner’s manual for details. Also, it’s important to rear face the child for additional protection so long as the rear facing weight limit hasn’t been reached.
Cars and Trucks with a Back Seat
Most sedans, SUV’s, and extended-cab trucks have a rear bench with seating for three. You should install your child seat in the center of the rear bench.
If you have two car seats to install, there is more to consider.
Car accident data indicates there is a slightly lower risk of injury in the passenger side rear seats. Keep in mind, the difference is very small, and every accident is different. However, there is another advantage to child seats on the passenger side if the center seat is occupied. If you parallel park your car, the driver’s side faces toward traffic. With a child seat on the passenger side, you can safely get your child in and out of the car at the curbside when parallel parking.
Minivans and SUV’s with 3rd Row Seating
Most vehicles with 3rd row seating have a bench seat in the back row, but the middle row may have either bucket seats or a bench.
If you’re installing a single car seat, the closer to the center of the vehicle you can place the seat, the better. For cars with a bench in the middle row, install the seat in the center of the middle row. With bucket seats in the middle, install the seat in the third row.
What if you have two children in car seats? If you have bench seats in both of the back rows, use the center seats of both the middle and back rows.
With 3+ car seats, or 2+ seats in a vehicle with middle row buckets, some seats will need to be installed on the sides of the car. First, install child seats in your middle row, if it has a center seat. Then, install in the back row’s center seat. The next best position is the passenger seat of the middle row. If you still have another seat to install after that, use the back row’s passenger side seat.
I have two car seats to install in my back seat – one is forward facing and one is rear facing. Which should go in the center seat?
As you know by now, the center seat is the safest place in the car. If you have both an infant and a toddler in car seats, which should get the center position? The answer to this question isn’t obvious.
Generally, the thinking is that the least-protected child should get the center seat. A toddler in a forward-facing seat is protected less since the seating position isn’t as safe as rear facing. For this reason, installing the forward facing seat in the center and the rear facing seat on the passenger side is recommended.
However, some parents feel that since infants are more vulnerable, they should be in center seat of the car. If this is your preference, a toddler in the side seat should still be adequately protected if both seats are used properly. I do advise that you select a convertible car seat with side impact protection if you make this choice.
As always, be sure to carefully read through and follow the instructions provided with your car seat. Some child seats state that they can’t be used in the center seat of specific car models. Be sure to follow these exceptions and always install your seat properly. When in doubt, have your installation checked out at a child seat inspection station.