A question we hear a lot is: Where should I install the car seat? Is there a best or safest spot? Well, yes…. and no. Technically, the middle of the back seat is the safest place in terms of being the farthest from the point of impact in the event of a serious crash.
The reason for this is because, statistically, frontal crashes are the most common, meaning that most fatalities result from this type of scenario. Side collisions aren’t as likely to occur, but when they do, there is a disproportionately higher risk of death.
Rear-end collisions do happen more often than side-impact crashes, but they are usually far less fatal. For this reason, if you have a middle 3rd row back seat, that is considered the safest spot, followed by the center of a 2nd row back seat.
That being said, it is only the safest place if you can get a great install, which middle seats are notoriously bad about. Sometimes that is due to the shape of the seat or the position of the seat belt, but also because parents who want to use LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren) oftentimes find that the middle seat doesn’t have the proper anchors.
In this case, the absolute SAFEST spot to install a car seat is ANY back seat wherein you get the best and most secure car seat installation. It is better to have a properly-installed car seat in either outboard position (driver or passenger side) in the 2nd or 3rd row than to have an ill-fitted car seat in any center position.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE FRONT PASSENGER SEAT?
As you can see, in all of the suggested places to place a car seat, you will never find any reputable source recommend placing a car seat in the front seat. Though this is especially true for rear-facing car seats, it is also dangerous for front-facing car seats and boosters, too.
This is because front air bags are extremely dangerous for young children and can result in injury or even death if they deploy, whether in a serious crash or not. But even if you can turn off the air bags (or your vehicle doesn’t have any), please don’t let your child ride in the front seat. Remember, frontal crashes are still the most common and children need to be in the back seat!
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I NEED TO INSTALL TWO OR MORE CAR SEATS?
If you can get a great install in a middle back seat, you do have the option of putting your 2nd child beside them in an outboard position. Of course, putting two car seats side-by-side may prove to be quite difficult or even impossible if either of them (or both) are wide seats.
Some parents opt to put both car seats in outboard positions, leaving a space in between. Not only does this keep squabbling kids from picking on each other, but it makes it far easier in most cases to get them buckled in and out. In a situation where you need to put three car seats side-by-side, you will need to specifically look for extra-slim seats that will fit properly.
MY VEHICLE HAS SIDEWAYS OR REAR-FACING VEHICLE SEATS. CAN I USE THEM?
Nope! There are no car seats on the market that are tested or designed to be used on a vehicle seat that is not front-facing. It is a travesty that car manufacturers even bother with these little “kid-sized” seats when they are not even remotely safe for children to use. Don’t fall for the trap that they wouldn’t make a seat for kids that isn’t safe. Wrong! THEY DO! And it is a shame.
Instead, do your best to avoid buying a vehicle with odd-facing seats, since for all intents and purposes, that will be wasted space. Technically, even adults or older children that are out of a booster should not use them if it can be avoided, as they often do not provide even the most basic comforts or safety factors.
IS IT OKAY TO USE A CARSEAT IN A MOTORHOME or RV?
Again, this is a resounding NO! Legally, there may not be any particular laws that prohibit it, but there are no approved vehicle seats in an RV that allow a safe install. First of all, the only “front-facing” vehicle seats are the front seats (not safe) and any other seats are either sideways, backwards, have a table in front of it, or aren’t connected to the frame of the vehicle. All unsafe!
Furthermore, have you ever seen a motorhome crash? Not only does everything in the living space of an RV become a potential projectile, but they are built in such a way as to completely crumble on impact. In order to be lightweight enough, they don’t have a steel frame from top to bottom, which means they offer zero protection to any inhabitants, strapped in or not.
MY CHILD USES A BACKLESS BOOSTER. WHERE SHOULD THEY SIT IN THE VEHICLE?
Besides using a back seat, the other important thing to remember about positioning a booster is that the vehicle seat should have a proper headrest that provides head and neck support for your child. Since a backless booster doesn’t provide this kind of protection, it has to come from the vehicle. The top of the headrest needs to be no lower than the top of the child’s ears.
MY CHILD USES A FRONT FACING CAR SEAT. CAN IT BE PLACED IN ANY SPOT?
There is something that you need to keep in mind when choosing a back seat position for a front-facing car seat wherein the child is being buckled in with a 5-point harness. This type of seat requires the use of a top-tether strap. Oddly enough, not all car manufacturers install an anchor for this in every spot.
For this reason, you will need to choose the position for this seat based on where the manufacturer decided to provide an anchor. Usually middle seats or 3rd row seats are most likely to be missing this option. If you are looking for a vehicle to buy and want to keep your options open, make sure to double-check if your choice of vehicle has plenty of anchor points!
ONE LAST NOTE!
Remember that rear-facing car seats give the best protection, so keep your child rear-facing as long as possible! (At least 2 years or longer if they still fit their seat in rear-facing mode!) There are no restrictions about where a rear-facing child puts their legs, so let them put their feet wherever or however is most comfortable for them.
If you have multiple children and decide to put one child in the center position, don’t assume that the baby automatically needs it. Remember that a front-facing child has less protection than a rear-facing child, so an older child might actually benefit more from the protection of a middle seat.
I hope this guide helps you find the best placement for your car seat(s) and serves as a reminder to first and foremost always choose the spot that gives you the tightest and best install in the back seat!