A child's safety when traveling in a car depends on multiple factors. The most fundamental requirement is that they sit, well fastened, in a certified CRS that is itself secured to the car seat and is appropriate for the child's physical characteristics. Other important aspects, particularly during hot periods, such as the summer season that is almost upon us, is that children are well hydrated, that they wear appropriate clothing and that the interior be kept at a pleasant temperature.
However, there is a further safety issue that families often overlook. By law, those under 18 years of age and shorter than 135 cm must travel in the rear seats of the vehicle. But which seat is the safest position for a child seat?
The answer, of course, depends and a number of factors. In cars with three separate rear seats, the middle seat is without question the safest: it offers exactly the same protection as the other two seats in terms of anchoring the CRS, but has the significant additional advantage of being furthest from the doors, giving it extra protection against a side collision. Furthermore, should the vehicle come to a sudden halt there are no driver or passenger seats in front of the child seat and its occupant, meaning less chance of an impact.
If there are not enough back seats, or the middle seat is not large enough, you will have to choose one of the side seats. The best choice is unquestionably the right side seat. Seats on the right allow the safest access for the child when getting in and out of the vehicle from the sidewalk. Furthermore, any side collision is most likely to come from the left side as traffic approaches from said direction at intersections.
As a general rule, you should choose the best position for a child seat based on these questions:
- Are there three separate rear seats available? Choose the middle seat.
- Do some of the rear seats have ISOFIX anchor points but not all? Choose the best seat of those equipped with ISOFIX attachment points.
- Otherwise, and provided that the rear seats comply with minimum requirements for fitting a CRS, choose the right side rear seat.
What other possibilities are there? What if a CRS cannot be fitted in the rear seats?
As we have seen, current legislation demands that CRSs be positioned in the rear seats (preferable facing backward until the child is at least four years old). But the following three cases are exceptions: when the vehicle does not have back seats, the car has rear seats but they are occupied with other CRSs, and when a CRS cannot be fitted in the rear seats. We examine the new regulations in detail on our page "How will you be affected by the new regulations concerning the placement of your child seat".
If any of these exceptions applies to you, there is one final thing that you need to check: whether the passenger airbag can be manually deactivated (this is not possible in all vehicle models). If so, then a CRS may be fitted in the front right seat facing the appropriate direction: rear-facing for small children, forward-facing otherwise.
One of these exception cases covers classic cars, or cars of a certain age (but not yet classified as "classic"), which may be equipped with two-point seat belts in the rear seats rather than the modern three-point system. Two-point seat belts cannot guarantee adequate anchoring for a CRS, and should not be used with child seats.
There are a number of ways to solve the problem, including swapping the two-point seat belt for a three-point system, although this is a sizeable job and may not be possible in some specific models.