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I have a car seat installed for my baby girl. At the behest of my wife, we installed the car seat directly behind the driver, rather than behind the passenger. She claims that this is because the drivers side is safer, because in the event of a crash a driver will instinctively try to protect his side of the car e.g. by turning the car away from danger.

I've researched online but the only relevant information I could find is that the safest option is in the middle of the back seat, because that's away from the windows & doors. I can't find anything comparing the driver v passenger location.

The reason that behind the driver's seat is a bit awkward is that it would be slightly more practical for me if the car seat was behind the passenger seat, so that I could access it without getting out of the car. Also I'm curious if that theory is indeed correct, or whether there's anything to contradict it.

Thanks.

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    Welcome to Parenting.SE! Interesting question -- I've only heard "put it in the center" previously. It may require some exploration of crash statistics (e.g. do drivers actually instinctively turn left rather than right in a head-on collision) – Acire Oct 14 '15 at 14:57
  • Thanks I'll see if I can find info based on that question specifically. Incidentally, we're in the UK so in my case it would actually be whether I would instinctively turn right rather than left... – J Jones Oct 14 '15 at 15:03
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    One thing that came into play when taking the decision was also the "Parallel parking" situation : you might want your kid to be on the sidewalk side, i.e. opposite to the driver's seat side... I'm not a fan of the "middle" position : most of the time nowadays there isn't a real "seat" there and the seat would also decrease rear-view visibility... – Laurent S. Oct 14 '15 at 15:08
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    A significant factor as well is the driver glancing round at the baby -- you might try to resist but there are some noises that will get your attention. In which position will you be distracted from the road less. – Chris H Oct 15 '15 at 9:49
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    I didn't even know putting the seat in the center was allowed, let alone recommended! Great question. – JPhi1618 Oct 15 '15 at 20:45
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The center position is the safest for a car seat. Not only is that somewhat logical (regardless of what side the car is impacted, there's distance between impact and child), but it is supported by research.

That same study also indicates there was no statistically significant difference in the injury risk between the two sides of the car, only between the center and side positions.

Seating position distribution for child occupants was as follows: left outboard (31%), center (28%), and right outboard (41%)... Child occupants seated in the center had an injury risk 43% less than children seated in either of the rear outboard positions.

The injury risk was 0.27%, 0.17%, and 0.29% in the left outboard, center, and right outboard positions, respectively. No statistically significant difference in injury risk was found between child occupants in the right and left outboard positions; therefore, they were combined for additional analyses.

Kallan et al. Seating Patterns and Corresponding Risk of Injury Among 0- to 3-Year-Old Children in Child Safety Seats. Pediatrics, Vol. 121 No. 5, 2008.

That appears to hold true regardless of age -- the middle rear seat is safest.

The information from every fatal crash in the United States between 2000 and 2003 was analyzed.... The data show that the rear middle seat is safer than any other occupant position when involved in a fatal crash. Overall, the rear (2(nd) row) seating positions have a 29.1% increased odds of survival over the first row seating positions ... occupants of the rear middle seat have a 13% increased chance of survival when involved in a crash with a fatality than occupants in other rear seats.

Mayrose and Priya. The safest seat: effect of seating position on occupant mortality. Journal of Safety Research, Volume 39, Issue 4, 2008.


Of course, if the car seat can't install in the center, then you have to choose a side. Crash statistics don't have much to say about this, but this UK site indicates that the passenger side would be preferred, since you're then taking the child in and out on the sidewalk side (rather than standing in the roadway) when parallel parked. It also indicates that middle is safer in the event of a crash, but does not mention crash risks when choosing between two sides.

I will also note that whether or not it's true that drivers instinctively veer to protect themselves, that's only one type of potential crash. Head-on collisions are the most common, but you can be struck from anywhere -- and there isn't much that swerving can do to protect you from a side or rear impact. (Indeed, the numbers show that a driver-side impact is slightly more likely than a passenger-side impact...)

Average of crash data for the US over multiple years

NHTSA crash statistics (for all collisions, not just injuries or fatalities) were averaged over multiple years to come up with the numbers. Data, and graphic, are from crashtest.com, found via the Internet Wayback Machine. Note that this is for the US, so driver is seated on the left side of the car.

  • I thought there was a similar question/answer before, but I guess I just remember my own research trying to decide where to put the 2nd car seat. So, this answers that, and is consistent with what I found. When it's necessary to choose a side, instead of the center, I went with what I felt was safer: Not having a child directly behind the driver. It can affect how you can move your seat, and as they get older they can reach/kick the seat, which are both types of distractions. – user11394 Oct 15 '15 at 14:25
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I did some research into this years ago which I can't easily get to right now. I think I used the CDC statistics.

What I found was that the position behind the driver's seat was slightly less safe because turns towards the drivers side cross traffic, whereas turns away from the driver's side don't cross as much traffic - but both types of turns, if impact occurs, result in an impact on the driver's side of the car with more frequency than on the passenger's side.

In the US, this means that turning left, you are crossing a lane of traffic that could impact the driver's side of the car (and then merging into traffic that could impact the right side or rear), but turning right you merge into traffic, which could result in a left side or rear impact from traffic you are merging into. Note that in both turns, left impacts can occur, but in right turns right impacts are much less likely. The situation is the same for countries where travel direction is different, because the driver's seat is swapped as well. The position behind the driver's seat is still more exposed to impacts than the position behind the passenger's seat.

The statistics I did were not just for fatality, but included all injuries. Most fatality surveys will emphasize head on collisions, and both sides will seem as safe as each other. Once you include non-fatal injuries, though, and rank the injuries, you find that the driver's side position is slightly less safe.

However, the middle position is significantly safer than either side, and the difference between the two sides was small. Side impacts occur much less frequently than front and rear impacts, and usually occur at much slower speeds.

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Ericas answer hits the nail on the head regarding accidents.

An additional concern is forgetting baby in the car.

Add to all of that the fact that many of the children forgotten in cars are neither heard nor seen. Most of them have fallen asleep and are situated behind the driver in rear-facing car seats. Baby forgotten in the car

While this is not the most scientific source for this tidbit I remembered reading some time ago, it seems to point that having baby behind the driver's seat contributes to this risk. Because behind the driver's seat baby is totally invisible to the driver and thus easier to forget compared to having baby in the passanger side (or maybe in the middle).

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Let's stipulate that the baby is not inherently safer in the event of a collision by being on any particular side of the car, which has been supported by other answers, and that the car doesn't support the car-seat being in the middle. Then it is safer for her to be on the opposite side from the driver.

To see why, consider the case where there is a collision on the baby's side of the car.

In that case, it is better for everyone—both the driver and the baby—that the driver be safe. Obviously it's better for the driver. It is better for the baby, too, because the driver will be available to help revive her, remove her from the scene, or call an ambulance. If the driver were on the same side, she would be more likely to be injured herself and therefore not available to assist the baby. In fact, if the baby does survive, she may grow up with only one parent, or with one of her parent's needing constant medical care.

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Besides the safest position in the middle, it has additional benefits.

  • It is easier to interact with the baby in case of need
  • It is easier to monitor/ check on it in case of need
  • If your car has side airbags in the bag of the car, not every model can disable them in the back. In case of crash the airbag can do more damage than the crash itself (hence the safety warnings for the front seats for airbags + child seating)

As a counter argument for your wife to protect the drivers side in case of a crash: Imagine your car is on frontal crash curs with another car. You are trying to avoid it which is steering to the right (vise versa in countries with left driving rule) since avoiding it to the left would mean that you go even more to the wrong side of the street. If you visualize now your car and the point of impact, it is more likely the front left/ back left side.

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Please remember that unless your child is 5+ years old, it is absolutely imperative that the seat be facing rearwards, which means that it might be tricky/hard/impossible to place it in the middle seat. Also, if you do manage to place it there, you will have effectively removed any possibility of interacting with the child (even visually). Place the seat, rearward facing, behind the passenger seat.

http://www.folksam.se/resurser/pdf/Folksam_Fara_br_forsk.pdf

http://www.besafe.com/en/rear-facing-5-x-safer

The PDF is in Swedish but might be possible to translate? Contains a lot of very useful information. Basically, all evidence points to the fact that placing your child in a rear-facing seat greatly reduces the risk of death or injury. 8% of Swedish children involved in accidents need hospital treatment; in Germany that number is 40%. The only difference is that we keep our kids rear-facing for as long as possible, whereas Germans tend to turn them around much sooner.

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    A rearward facing seat is impossible for most preschoolers to fit in. Can you clarify "absolutely imperative" and provide a source for this? – Acire Oct 16 '15 at 14:04
  • @Erica Whilst not "absolutely imperative", there is a new EU Regulation in Europe (ECE R129) (a.k.a "i-Size") introduced that makes rearward seating mandatory for children up until 15 months old. Whilst this will run alongside existing legislation, this will be eventually phased out. Further information: unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/trans/main/wp29/wp29regs/2013/R129e.pdf – i_saw_drones Oct 16 '15 at 14:26
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    I'm still confused by your answer. 15 months and 5 years is a big gap. – Acire Oct 16 '15 at 14:52
  • Children can be seated in rearward facing seats until they reach the age of 5 (obviously this is individual, but that's when most children outgrow their seats). The risk of death or serious injury in a collision is about 5 times higher for children facing forwards. I'm on my phone now, will provide source a little later. – Emil Fors Oct 16 '15 at 17:03
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    It's never impossible for a preschooler to fit in a rear facing car seat. It's difficult to do, maybe, but not impossible. Rear facing until they absolutely can't fit - not just when you think they can't fit. Kids are pliable. – Jon V Oct 17 '15 at 2:02

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