The safest place for your child safety seat is in the middle of the back seat of your vehicle facing toward the rear. If you’re a parent you know this, or you should.
I didn’t, but before I left the hospital where we had our baby boy — he hits the 18-month mark next week — I was briefed and drilled by what still sounds like a boutique service to me: a department within the hospital devoted entirely to new parent child safety seat instruction. We’re talking instruction in the room, repeatedly, as well as instruction (and installation) in the parking garage where we’d left our car, also repeatedly. Proper child car seat installation is serious business.
The reasons for placing the seat as such seem like common sense to me in 2014: a very young child (especially a baby or toddler) is likely to sustain serious or fatal head or neck injuries if facing forward in a crash. Thus rear placement (where the seat extends above the head) helps cradle the head and neck in a collision, preventing it from whiplashing forwards as well as sideways; the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends rear-facing placement until a child is at least two years old.
And by placing the seat in the vehicle’s middle, you reduce the chance of the child seat (or child himself or herself) being directly struck in a side-impact crash. I’m guessing that middle-seat placement may also have something to do with protecting the child from side airbag deployment.
The latter scenario — a side impact or t-bone crash — may receive new regulations designed to further protect a child in such a scenario: according to the Associated Press, the government is proposing that child car seats protect children from both injury and death in what would be an upgrade to existing standards for children weighing up to 40 pounds.
The proposed regulations would involve a new test that simulates a side crash in which a vehicle traveling at 30 m.p.h. strikes the side of another traveling at 15 m.p.h. Instead of using actual cars, however, since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told the AP the test isn’t about rating vehicles, the simulation will use sleds: the car seat positioned on one, struck by another positioned perpendicular to it.
These kinds of crashes tend to occur when one car, stopped at an intersection, proceeds to enter the intersection and is struck by another vehicle on the cross street moving at much higher speeds (say running a stop sign or red light). According to the NHTSA, the new regulations could prevent injuries to 64 children as well as the deaths of roughly five others every year, and the agency adds those estimates are “very, very conservative.”
Assuming the regulations are made final — there’s a 90-day public comment period that starts after the standards are published this week — the AP says car seat manufacturers would have a three-year window to bring their products into compliance.