Study Shows Placing Car Seat in Center of Back Seat Cuts Risk of Injury in Crash

According to a new study, the safest place for baby’s car seats is in the middle of the back seat and not on the sides.

While older adults can choose where they want to sit in a car by using their seat belts, researchers have found that the location of a child-restraint system determines where a child’s seats are. The rear passenger side is where a baby’s car seats are most commonly located. This allows for easy access and keeps an eye on the baby. The study found that children younger than 3 years old sat in the middle of the back seat was nearly twice as likely to be injured in motor vehicle accidents than those who sat in any other position.

Researcher Michael J. Kallan, MS from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and colleagues in Pediatrics, states that children who are restrained by child-restraint systems as they age use the center rear seat position less frequently. Children seated in the middle rear are 43% less likely to sustain injury than children seated in the rear outboard positions. According to researchers, current guidelines for child restraint safety recommend that the seat be placed in the middle as long as it is comfortable. These recommendations are based upon research done a decade ago.

Children love the safety of the center seat

Researchers examined whether these recommendations still hold true by analysing data from 1998 to 2006 on children occupants in motor vehicle accidents, based on insurance claims as well as a telephone survey. Children aged 3 and under were included in the analysis. They were in a child-restraint seat in the rear of motor vehicles (model years 1990 or later) that were involved with a crash in 16 US states. Results showed that the passenger seat in the rear was most popular for baby/child’s car seats (41%), followed by the driver’s side (31%) or the center seat (28%).

Research also showed that the use of the center position declined with the age of the child. According to research, 39% of infant car seats were used in the middle rear position for children under one year old, compared with 18% for 3-year-olds. This is regardless of whether there are additional passengers in the rear. The center presented a 43% lower chance of injury for children than the opposite side, which researchers claim validates current child-restraint safety guidelines. Researchers write that “even though any rear seat position offers excellent protection,” they state that those in the center are at the greatest risk of injury. Research suggests that families should continue to be encouraged to install baby and child car seats in the middle of the rear seat.

Updated 01/24/22