Welcome to the ultimate guide on car seat safety.

After many antagonizing opinions, we were finally able to figure out the proper place for the car seat.

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As parents, we want nothing for our little ones more than their safety and security during car rides. That’s when car seats come in handy. But how do you ensure you install your child’s car seat correctly?

Whether you’re getting ready to install a brand new car seat or replace an old one, it can be daunting to choose the safest position for the car seat. You might wonder, does the car seat go behind the driver or passenger?

Well, the answer is neither! It would be best to place the car seat in the middle. However, some cars don’t have a gap in the middle for car seats. That’s why there are other factors to consider before installing a car seat for your child.

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Understanding Car Seat Safety

When it comes to placing your child’s car seat, it’s crucial to install it in the safest possible position to ensure his safety and minimize the chances of injury.

Studies have shown that children placed in a car seat in the middle of the rear seat had a 43% less chance of injuries compared to those who sit behind the driver or the passenger.

In most cars, there’s a wide gap between the driver and passenger seat, in that space, your child is more secure. Because it’s unlikely for seats or airbags to impact him.

Note that the car seat position isn’t enough to make sure your child is safe. There are other crucial factors to consider. Read on!

How to Choose a Baby Car Seat

When it comes to keeping your children safe in the car, the type of car seat you choose plays an important role. Children require different types of seats depending on their age and size. That’s why it’s critical to understand what options are available and which is best for your child.

There are three main types of children’s car seats: rear-facing, front-facing, and booster seats.

1.   Rear-facing car seats

Rear-facing seats are best for babies and toddlers weighing below 40 pounds. The seat has a harness and it moves your baby to minimize the stress on his fragile neck and spinal cord. These seats come in three main types: infant, convertible and all-in-one seats. What’s the difference?

Infant Car Seats

Infant-only car seats suit children between 22 to 40 pounds, depending on the seat’s model. They’re small, portable, and attach to the vehicle’s seat through a base.

These seats can hold your baby until his first year or 18 months, depending on your child’s size. After that, you have to move your child to a convertible or all-in-one seat.

Convertible Car Seats

These seats are designed for babies and toddlers up to two years old. Convertible seats can be used as rear-facing (facing the back) or forward-facing (facing the front).

Since these seats are stationary, they provide more protection than standard infant seats. You can also use them for longer periods. That said, you must ensure your child isn’t too small for a convertible seat and that he fits in firmly.

All-in-one Seats

Also known as 3 in 1 seats, all-in-one seats can switch from rear-facing to forward-facing and then booster seats.

These stationary seats will fit your children from when they’re toddlers until they no longer need booster seats. Since they fit children of different sizes, all-in-one seats allow children to stay in a rear-facing position for a longer time.

2.   Forward-facing Seats

Forward-facing seats are intended for older children, typically toddlers who weigh over 40 pounds. These seats have five-point harnesses that restrain the child better than a regular seat belt. They’re available as infant, convertible and all-in-one seats.

3.   Booster Seats

Booster seats are for children who have outgrown forward-facing only car seats but aren’t ready for a standard adult seat belt yet. Booster seats raise the child so that they’re at the correct height to use an adult seat belt.

They hold the child so that adult seat belts fit firmly on his hips and across his chest. Booster seats are available in four types:

High-back Booster Seats

High-back booster seats boost the child’s height while providing neck and head support. They’re suitable for vehicles that lack headrests and high seat backs.

Backless Booster Seats

Backless booster seats elevate the child so that adult seat belts suit him. However, they don’t offer head or neck support. They’re ideal for cars that have headrests.

Combination Seats

Combinations seats are another type of booster seats that can transfer from forward-facing seats into boosters.

How to Install a Car Seat in the Middle Seat

Now that you know which car seat type is suitable for your little ones, it’s time to learn how to install it properly.

You should always install child car seats in the back of your car, preferably in the middle. That’s where your child will get maximum protection from front seats and airbags in car crashes.

It’s still fine to place the seat behind the passenger or driver seat (in case your car doesn’t allow you to place it in the middle).

1.   Secure the Car Seat in Place

Depending on your car model, there are two ways to secure the car seat: the vehicle’s seat belt and the LATCH.

If your car has a LATCH system, you’ll need to locate the anchors and tethers first. How?

Anchors are metal bars or hooks located behind the seat cushion near where the backseat meets the seat, so start by looking there first. Once you’ve identified them, attach straps from the car seat to those anchors using either a push-button or another method.

If you’re installing a forward-facing car seat, ensure you use top tethers to secure the seat in place.

What if my car lacks a LATCH system? Then you should use the vehicle’s seat belt. Place the seat belt by following the arrows on the car seat for the correct belt path.

It’s worth noting that you should never use both the LATCH and seat belts together. The LATCH system usually provides more protection; however, you should pick the method that gives a snug fit and minimal room for wiggling.

2.   Check the Car Seat

After you install the car seat and anchor it to the vehicle, it’s time to test if it fits perfectly. The inch test is a simple way to do so. Try moving the car seat to the belt path.

If the seat is installed correctly, it shouldn’t move more than an inch from front to back or side to side. This rule applies to both rear and forward-facing car seats.

3.   Check the Car Seat Label

The LATCH won’t hold all your children, it’s only usable for children under a specific weight. That’s why it’s crucial to inspect the seat label for the weight limit.

At some point, your child will get too big for the LATCH, and you’ll have to use the seat belt and top tether.

Does the Car Seat Go Behind the Driver or Passenger? | Final Words

Hopefully, we helped you understand the basics of car seats and how to install them. We know how much parents get concerned about the safety of their children while driving. That’s why you might have been wondering where to place the car seat.

We strongly recommend placing your child’s car seat in the center seat at the back of your car. This is where your child will have maximum protection from airbags and driver and passenger seats.

However, some cars don’t have a center seat in the back. In that scenario, you can still place the car seat behind the passenger or the driver. As long as you follow the instructions for installation, you can rest assured your child will be safe and secure during car rides.

FAQs

Can I place a baby car seat behind the driver?

Yes, you can. However, it’s not the safest position for your child. That’s because this position is much closer to the side of impact.

What type of child car seats should I use?

It depends on the type of car and the size and weight of your child, but generally, convertible car seats are great for toddlers who can sit up by themselves.

Infant seats, which face toward the back of the car, are best for newborns. If you’re looking for a seat that fits between two adults, a combination seat is ideal as it converts from a forward-facing seat to a booster.

Can I place a baby car seat in the front passenger seat?

It’s always best to place your child’s car seat in the back of your car. But in case you have to put it in the front passenger seat, you should ensure to position the child seat as far back as possible.

That way, you maximize the distance between your child and the impact zone and airbags. Also, check your vehicle’s manual to see how far the airbags extend. Again, we don’t recommend doing this unless you have to.

Last Updated on April 26, 2023 by Danny Reid

Written by Linda Reid

Hey there, I'm Linda, a mom of three cool kids. I've tried so many car seats, you could call me a "Car Seat Detective." Searching for the perfect car seat can feel like finding a needle in a haystack, but don't worry! I've committed to researching and reviewing car seats that are super safe, cozy, and great for growing kids. Together, we'll find the perfect car seat that keeps your child safe and cozy, and makes you feel like a super-parent!