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Seat Placement in the Vehicle

Posted in: Installation

Where in the vehicle should a forward-facing child sit?

The center of the back seat is the safest place in the entire vehicle. It’s not just safest for kids – it’s safest for adults too. Research from real crashes shows that kids sitting in the center are 43% safer than those sitting on the side because you can never take a direct hit in the center.

But there is no LATCH in the center of my vehicle?!

True for most vehicles!! LATCH was designed specifically for child safety seats, yet the safest place for the child safety seat usually doesn’t have LATCH. But…. just because there is no LATCH doesn’t mean you can’t install the child safety seat in the center. You will need to use the vehicle’s safety belt to secure the child safety seat in the center. (Just remember, there is almost always a tether anchor in the center – so if you are putting a forward-facing safety seat in the center, use the vehicle’s safety belt AND the tether.)

But what if two (or more) people need to ride in the back seat?

Since the center is the safest spot, try to put the person who is least protected in the center. For example, a rear-facing child (even a 4 pound preemie) is 5 times safer than a forward-facing child or adult simply because they are riding rear-facing. So, put the forward-facing child in the center and the rear-facing child on the side to “even things out.”
Of course there are times when this may not work. When there is only a lap belt in the center, things get complicated. A child in a booster or an adult should NOT ride with just a lap belt. Therefore it would be safer for the booster child or adult to sit on the side with a shoulder belt.

What if the child safety seat doesn’t fit securely in the center?

The most important thing is to use the child safety seat properly. So, if the safety seat doesn’t fit securely in the center, install it on the side. Or, buy a different safety seat that will fit securely in the center.

Won’t my child fly through the windshield if they sit in the center?

As a parent there are many things to worry about, and many parents worry about this. But as the Car Seat Ladies, we are going to tell you not to worry! If the child safety seat is used properly, you don’t have to worry about anyone going through the windshield. A properly used child safety seat is belted tight to the vehicle and the child is strapped tightly in the harness.

The only people who go through the windshield are those who forgot to wear their safety belt or kids who were VERY loose in their harness straps.

26 Responses to “Seat Placement in the Vehicle”

  1. yc says:

    If my child in an infant seat goes behind the driver or passenger, do the airbags need to be turned off?

  2. Allie D. says:

    My vehicle owner’s manual says the center rear seat is not recommended. Then it notes the seat bulge may interfere with installation. Would you still install the car seat in the center rear, assuming I can get a tight fit? Or would you follow the manual and go with the side seat? My vehicle is a 2011 Subaru Impreza hatchback (5 door).

  3. wt says:

    I have a 2016 bmw 3 series gt and the center seat belt is very large to the point where the seat belt buckle end is almost coming in contact with the belt path. Is this still safe installation?
    WT

    • The center seat of this – and most – BMWs is incompatible with a secure installation of most car seats. The extreme narrowness of most recent model year BMW center seats makes it such that most car seats won’t install securely – and for the few that are narrow enough, this extremely long buckle stalk eliminates most of the remaining car seats on the market. You will likely need to install the car seat on one of the side seats.

  4. Sascha says:

    My vehicle only has anchors on the two side seats. However, my Britax seat says, the seat will allow up to 20 inches for the anchors, not the standard 11, so it seems that it is safe to borrow anchors in this situation? We measured and it’s 17 inches for the middle seat. We asked Britax and they said they can’t see why not. My question is, why is it you are not allowed to borrow anchors? Considering my seat says you can use up to 20 inches apart it seems that this is safe for us?

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Hi! Thank you for a very helpful web site.
    I live in the UAE so the car specs and available car seats differ from the US – but I’m going to give it go:
    We have a 2013 Kia Sorento that has only a lap belt in the center (no shoulder belt). We have a 3 year old in front-facing car seat (Maxi Cosi Axiss), a 1.5 year old who has outgrown her baby seat (Graco) and a 3rd baby on the way. The 3rd baby will go in the Graco, but we now need to buy a rear-facing convertible seat for the 1.5 yo. My questions are:

    1) Can we safely fit a rear-facing convertible seat in the center seat with lap belt only? (I see a lot of talk about LATCH but I don’t know if UAE spec cars have that…) The center would be my first choice so that the baby can be on the side for easy access.
    2) Alternatively, can we safely fit a Graco baby seat with base in the center with just the lap belt?
    3) Can you please recommend a rear-facing convertible seat for our 1.5 yo, that will fit together with the Maxi Cosi Axiss and Graco (with base) all in the same row of Kia Sorento 2013? Reputable brands that we get here are Maxi Cosi, Britax and Graco.

    THANK YOU!

    • Your Sorento is different from ours in the US (we have LATCH, and the center has a shoulder belt). You can get Clek car seats in the UAE – and I would try using those rear-facing for the 1.5 and 3 year olds. The Clek seats are narrower than the Maxi Cosi, Britax, and Graco – and you need narrow. The Clek can be installed rear-facing with just a lap belt.

  6. Brandy says:

    My 3 month old in an infant car seat is in the middle of the back seat rear facing. And my 2 year old in a convertible car seat rear facing is on the passenger side. Is this correct placement?

  7. Carmen says:

    I have a 2016 Camry. I’m trying to install Chicco Keyfit infant seat. I also have forward facing Graco seat.
    Per car manual, cannot LATCH in the middle. Actually doesn’t show or mention any middle seat car seat installation.
    I’m inclined to use LATCH on one side and put the Graco on the other side. I feel like LATCH feels more secure than using the seatbelt. It’s logistically very tricky to make both these seats fit next to each other as well.
    If they are both on sides, which should go on which side??

    Thanks!

    • You’ll probably need to install them on either side. There is no safety difference between the 2 sides – so it doesn’t matter which child gets which side.

  8. Rachael says:

    What about a 2011 Subaru Outback? The owner’s manual specifically states not to put the car seat in the center position. We’ve always had it on the side, but recently started to worry that we should move him to the center. He’s in a Britax Marathon, rear-facing and we drive a Subaru Outback (2011).

    • You can install a car seat in the center if you can get it securely installed. Your Britax will install better on the side using LATCH in your Subaru.

  9. KH says:

    We have a 2008 bmw 5 series and I hope to use the inner lower anchors from the side seats for the car seat (Uppababy Mesa). The car manual doesn’t say if you can or cannot install in the center although all the pictures show side lower anchor installations. The inner anchors are less than 22inches apart. I agree, center seems safest. The car seat fits very well in the center and feels secure but just want to understand if I’m missing something. Thank you!

    • You do not have lower anchors for the center of your BMW. Your vehicle must specifically state that you can do this in order for you to be able to do this safely. Please do not install your Mesa in the center with LATCH. I should add that this is not the ideal seat for your BMW – you can see which seats we recommend here – thecarseatlady.com/strollers – and if you live in the NYC area can get personalized help selecting and installing the seat – thecarseatlady.com/lessons

  10. Russell says:

    We have a 2017 Mazda CX9 with our 3.5 year old forward facing in his Britax Boulevard. We just had another baby and will be sitting him in a rear facing Cybex Aton. What do you recommend as the best seating configuration in the second row? Currently we keep our son in the seat behind the passenger side but need to move it so we can have use of the ‘3rd row access’. Any advice would be helpful, thank you so much!!

    • You should be able to keep the Boulevard where it is (and the Aton behind the driver) and have 3rd row access. The Boulevard will need to be installed with the lower anchors and top tether (not the seat belt and top tether) in order to have the 3rd row access. Check that your child is below the maximum weight for using the lower anchors on your Boulevard.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INuXRVmMRYg

  11. Cesyli says:

    Hello! We are likely going to buy a 2018 Odyssey. I will have a new baby in the fall and a rear facing three-year-old. I can put new baby in the 2nd row rear center seat, but where is the next safest position for baby#1? Would it be rear facing on a side or would it be in the third row center (assuming that is an option)? Just wanting my kiddos to be as safe as possible in the car. Thank you!

    • With both kids rear-facing they are equally well protected. I’d keep them both in the 2nd row – and I’d put the baby on the side as it is easier to get the baby’s seat in/out when it is on the side. Many seats will be too wide to fit in the narrow center of the 2018 Odyssey’s 2nd row – but the Clek Fllo is a great rear-facing option in the 2nd row center seat.

  12. Steve says:

    Hi –

    We have a 2013 Volvo S60 – i noticed that Volvo’s are unfortuantely not on your database. Our manual does not recommend using shared latch across the middle and instead recommends using the seatbelt. However, from the testing and installs that we’ve done, the latch system appears to be more secure in general. Two questions:

    1) Is using the middle belt AND latch (as a redundancy) worse than just a middle belt with no latch at all?

    2) Would you recommend the belt in the middle over Latch on either side?

    Thanks! love the site

    • Volvo’s do not allow using the innermost lower anchors to install a car seat in the center.
      1. Using the lower anchors and the seat belt is not allowed on any car seat, except for the Nuna Pipa base, and the Clek Foonf forward-facing (both of which have rigid LATCH)
      2. Pick the center with the seat belt, or the side with the seat belt, or the side with lower anchors based on whichever yields the tightest installation with your particular car seat.

  13. Anna says:

    I have a 5 month old in a GB asana and a 3 year old in a nuna Rava in a subaru crosstrek. I am rear facing both kids as long as possible. If I install the baby seat in the center position I can’t use the load leg on the seat base because of the elevated middle of the car floor, but I thought I was supposed to put the most vulnerable kid in the center. So it is better to put her on the side with load leg or in the center without load leg?
    Thanks, your website has been very helpful!

    • We would recommend installing the GB Asana on one of the side seats to allow the use of the load leg – which is a significant safety feature that you want to take advantage of! thecarseatlady.com/loadleg