Is it safer to put our baby seat in the Rear-Middle or Rear-Side, or does it matter?

From what (little) research I've done, it looks like people suggest putting the seat in the middle because it's protected on all sides. However, I can't any research that proves that one way or the other.

If it's safer to put the baby in the middle seat, we certainly will. But, it seems like less work to lift him into and out of a side-seat.

Any thoughts?

asked 22 Jan '10, 12:33

sgwill's gravatar image

accept rate: 0%

edited 23 Jan '10, 02:27

Tammy's gravatar image

Tammy ♦♦


see some discussion on this question:

(22 Jan '10, 12:35) Rich Seller

Fortunately for you, the FARS database contains exactly the kind of information you're looking for. They don't provide an easy way to link to a custom query, but here's the result:

Crosstab report and graph showing injury statistics vs car seat position

This includes US vehicle crashes for 2008 in which there was at least one properly secured passenger in a child/booster/infant car seat in the second row right, middle, and left positions.

I'm not a statistician, so while I will provide my own thoughts below and my own conclusions, keep in mind that there are a million and one ways to interpret a given set of data. I'm not presenting the data in the optimal way. Draw your own conclusions.

The total counts are converted to percentages in a given position as most people do not buckle their child seats in the middle - of the nearly 1,500 crashes in this report only 20% of them have their children in the middle seat. For those keeping track at home, the left side is the Driver's side. Since left turns cross traffic, the left side is the more likely spot for a side impact in the US than the right side.

First, the middle seat has a higher chance of "No injury" and "Possible Injury" (ie, no evident injury, but passenger might indicate they feel hurt) than either the left or right position.

Crashes which result in evident (detectable) injuries but the child is still conscious and/or able to move are a lower percentage of middle seat injuries than right or left seats.

Notably, crashes where the child is incapacitated (unconscious or paralyzed) are skewed to the left of the car - this is likely due to side impact. Middle is safer than left, but right is still just barely safer than middle (visible on graph only).

But then crashes where the child died shows a notable reduction in the middle seat compared to the right or left seats.

If we sum the "No injury" and "Possible Injury" and compare it to the sum of the evident, incapacitating, and fatal injuries, we find the following:

        injury         Injured
Left     57%            42%
Middle   63%            37%
Right    57%            42%

From which I draw the following conclusion:

In crashes where children were properly secured in an appropriate child seat those seated in the middle were 5% less likely to receive visible/evident injury. From the earlier graph you can see that the chance of a fatality in the middle seat is 3% less likely than the driver's side seat, and 2% less likely than the passenger's side.

It's not a big difference - the risk is low. But the cost is high, and that's why that 20% I mentioned above put their children in the middle.

Again, keep in mind that I'm doing an extraordinarily simple interpretation and comparison, and there's likely lots of room for improvement. You can pull the data from FARS and look into it further.

Here are a few more resources for car seat position:


answered 22 Jan '10, 19:55

Adam%20Davis's gravatar image

Adam Davis
accept rate: 31%

+1 for detailed answer.

(22 Jan '10, 22:19) Emi

Great answer! Thanks for taking the extra time to analyze the data!

(25 Jan '10, 12:17) sgwill

You're welcome. It took a little longer to do than I expected, but it's an interesting topic, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that FARS did track this metric. Fun diversion.

(25 Jan '10, 18:10) Adam Davis

Would be interesting to go back to drill down into the data to see the difference in these statistics for cars with side impact airbags, and cross-reference them to type of crash. I suspect that the majority of crashes are front impact, and further than the seating position doesn't matter in those cases (the transference of impact energy is the same for all three positions) - but side impact will make a big difference in transferring energy to the child. Lots of other points of discussion available in the reams of data they have - too much data, too little time...

(25 Jan '10, 18:31) Adam Davis

You are very right about there not being much information available regarding this subject. We were advised to do so by my sister in law, in the U.K.

In comments to Scotts answer for the question posted by Cat G

"Rear facing carseat, baby can kick the seat. Is this safe"

you will see the other user comments about it. As Scott very rightly points out with the end comment, I guess using the middle seat is only plausible with child.


answered 22 Jan '10, 13:31

Emi's gravatar image

accept rate: 19%

The owner's manual that came with our Chevy Aveo recommended that if you are using only one seat, regardless of which direction it faces, you should put it in the rear-middle. But if you are using two seats, again regardless of the direction they face, then you should put one on each rear-side.


answered 22 Jan '10, 15:29

mkcoehoorn's gravatar image

accept rate: 8%

It definitely depends on your car. Be sure to check the owner's manual. We could not keep a car seat secure in the 2-door coupe we recently traded in because the seatbelt would come loose. It was much safer to keep our daughter behind the passenger seat since we could get a secure install using the LATCH system. Our new car (Mazda5) does not have rear middle seats, so we also use the outboard position in it.


answered 23 Jan '10, 03:53

Fun2Dream's gravatar image

accept rate: 10%


I used to have a car that when the carseat was in the middle, I would pull the belt tight and then it would work itself loose while I was driving, allowing the seat to tip over. So I ended up moving the carseat to sit behind the driver's seat so that I could snap it into place and go. The shoulder belt allowed a much more secure fastening than the middle belt.

(23 Jan '10, 17:50) mkcoehoorn

@mkcoehoorn - that's pretty much my experience exactly.

(28 Jan '10, 02:00) Fun2Dream
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Asked: 22 Jan '10, 12:33

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Last updated: 23 Jan '10, 03:53