When choosing the best location for your car seat there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle to consider. In a perfect world everyone would ride in the back center seating position. However, that’s not a reality when we have more than one passenger in the car with us.
You’ll need to consider..
1. The center seating position
This is the safest location because it is the furthest point away from any incoming glass & metal during a crash. However, only use this spot if your car seat will install correctly there. A well installed car seat behind the driver or front passenger (we call them outboard positions) is better than a poorly installed car seat in the center.
2. The vehicle owner’s manual
Make sure the vehicle manual says that it’s ok to use the center position in your car. There could be various reasons, but sometimes the car manufacturer has decided that this position won’t work properly for a car seat, possibly putting the child at risk for injury if you do use it.
The manual will also tell you whether or not you have LATCH & can use it in each seating position, if you have top tether anchors & where they are, where your air bags are, how your seat belts lock for a car seat and some other very useful information about the use of car seats in your car.
3. Spacing issues
(Particularly with rear facing car seats.) Some car seats require a space between the top of the rear facing car seat and the vehicle seat back in front of the car seat. Others allow for the seat to touch. Typically touching is better than leaving a small space, which could potentially cause another collision in a crash (between the car seat & the vehicle seat).
4. AIR BAGS
Check your car seat manual AND vehicle manual before placing a car seat near an air bag. Remember…NEVER put a rear facing car seat in the front seat with an active air bag. This is a deadly combination.
5. Who else rides in the car?
And where do they sit? Do the lap/shoulder seat belts need to be used for older kids (so that the car seat kid must ride in the middle where there is only a lap seat belt?)? Will siblings create driving distractions if seated right next to each other?
Taking in the bigger picture will help keep all riders as safe as they can possibly be during a crash.
6. Who rides in the middle?
I’m going to give you two trains of thought & let you decide.
One…the child who needs the most protection rides in the most protected spot. (ie: the baby is the most “delicate” child and therefore goes in the middle.)
Two…A rear facing child is better protected than a forward facing child in a side impact crash as well as an offset crash, one where the crash happens to a front corner of the car, which happens a lot. Everyone in the car keeps moving forward until something stops them. For the rear facing child, the thing that stops them is the back of the car seat, which means that there is protection between the glass & metal and the child’s head. The forward facing child is stopped by the harness, but the head moves forward out of the car seat, exposing it to the glass & metal coming into the car.
It’s a tough decision to make. And there is no right or wrong answer.
7. Are all seat belts working properly?
I’ve come across many damaged seat belts in my years checking car seats. Make sure you use a seat belt that has all the parts and is not fraying or holey.
8. Will all the car seats in your car fit next to each other?
Sometimes the car seats you have may not fit next to each other, especially if you’re trying to fit 3 seats side-by-side. Find a local car seat fitting station to help you. It’s a lot easier for someone to give advice when they can physically see your car, car seats, kids, etc. Plus they may have a variety of car seats on hand that they can help try out in your car.
9. Someone has to ride in the front…who should it be?
If all the seat belts in the back seats are being used and a child under 13* HAS to ride in the front seat, chose a forward facing child who uses a harnessed car seat (ie: a convertible or combination car seat). These seats will hold the child back away from the dashboard at all times. A child in a booster seat or seat belt has the option to lean forward, play with the radio, tie their shoes, pick up stuff off the floor, etc. This places them in a very dangerous position & the spot where most kids who are hurt by the air bags are. And it’s still a dangerous spot if there is no airbag because now your child’s head is being crammed into a hard plastic &/or metal dashboard in a crash.
If you have to put a child in the front seat, move the front seat as far back from the dash as possible. If that child is in a booster seat or seat belt have a talk with them about sitting still & not leaning forward.
* Thirteen is the age when a child is considered to be mature enough to sit still & in position in the vehicle seat. This could be an older or younger age for your child. You’re the best judge of that. If they put their feet up on the dash, turn sideways to lean on the door, lean forward, etc. send them right back to the back seat.