Where Should I Install My Child’s Car Seat?
Whether you’re a first-time parent or an experienced pro, it’s important to learn all there is to learn about car seat installation before taking your child out in the car. Statistics show that motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death among children. In 2018, 33 percent of children 12 and younger who died in a car crash were not buckled in correctly.
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Luckily, there are numerous resources online that help you learn the correct way to install your child’s car seat, but the question remains: where is the safest place in my car to install the car seat?
Middle is safest… usually
The CDC reports that the safest spot in a vehicle for a child’s car seat is the rear middle seat. That’s because it offers the most protection from a side collision since it’s furthest from the collision impact and from the side air bags. In fact, an NIH study from 2008 showed that there was a 13 percent greater chance of survival for a child in a car seat in the middle of the rear seat compared to one of the outboard rear seats.
Modern cars come with a LATCH system to make installation of car seats easier than ever, but often these LATCH anchors are only on the side rear seats, not in the middle. (Front seats are never an option for children under 13 years.) Still, a car seat bucked in the middle using a lap and shoulder belt can offer more protection than one attached to an outboard seat using the LATCH system.
A snug fit wins
If your car doesn’t have LATCH anchors in the middle seat, you might be tempted to install your car seat in the left or right rear seat instead. But attaching an infant or convertible seat to the center position using a lap-shoulder belt (or a lap-only belt) is perfectly safe, provided that the car seat base doesn’t move more than one inch front-to-back or side-to-side when installed. HealthyChildren.org reports that the LATCH system and seat-belt install are equally safe, so don’t let that guide your decision.
When in an infant or convertible seat, your child is secured with a five-point harness, which is much more important when it comes to child safety than whether your car seat is installed with a lap belt, lap-shoulder belt, or LATCH anchors.
Where to install?
So what’s the conclusion? The safest place to install your infant or convertible car seat is in the rear middle seat — but only if you can get a snug fit. If you install here and your car seat moves more than one inch in any direction, it’s better to switch to one of the rear side seats to ensure you have a good install.
Once you’ve installed your car seat in your chosen spot, take your car to a Child Passenger Safety Technician so they can check and make sure your seat is installed correctly. You can find your nearest tech here.
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Catherine Hiles (she/her) is a native Brit living and working in Dayton, Ohio. Cat has written about a variety of subjects, including finance, cars, and parenting. She is a frequent contributor to Dayton Mom Collective and The Penny Hoarder.
Cat lives with her husband, their two kids, and their energetic pitbull mix. She counts running, lifting weights, walking, and reading among her hobbies. See more articles by Cat.