Should the Infant Car Seat go Behind the Driver or Passenger?
This is one of the most common questions I’ve seen in my inbox in the years of running this site.
There are many “schools of thought” on the topic.
Lots of people vote for the middle rear seat, and others prioritize having their baby within arm’s reach, right in the front passenger seat.
Even when you find the safest spot, how to figure out a way to keep two kids safe while driving?
There’s no one-size-fits-all kind of solution, and you’ll have to choose one based on your needs.
That’s why this article covers all possible options in depth.
Let’s debunk some myths about the safest position for your baby car seat.
Should I put the baby car seat behind the driver or the passenger?
The answer surprisingly lies – in the middle.
The middle rear seat is the furthest from the sides and the airbags. Therefore, in case of a crash, the sides of the vehicle are at high risk of a side impact.
Sitting in the middle rear seat is also a good idea for adults. They’d have a 25% increased odds of survival compared to if they were sitting in other rear seats.
And that’s not all…
Another research showed a 43% lower risk than a rear outboard position.
The middle rear seat is the safest spot for your child.
Must-haves if you opt for the middle rear seat
The middle rear seat is the best choice when it comes to safety.
But safety is guaranteed only if:
- The seat has a three-point seat belt – lap and diagonal seat belts only on the sides
- It’s wide enough to place a car seat on it
- There are no humps
- For rear-facing options: the car seat is not in front of an active airbag
If your vehicle doesn’t meet even one of these requirements, you should consider other options.
So let’s dive in deeper.
You may also be interested in: proper car seat strap placement
Does the baby seat go behind the driver or the passenger?
Let’s go over the benefits of both options so you can make a decision yourself.
Behind the Driver’s Seat
I like this position for one main reason – getting the baby out of the car couldn’t be easier.
This positions has massive secondary benefits:
- There is no need to circle around the car at a stop and leave your baby unsupervised for more than a second.
- If your partner is in the passenger’s seat, it’d be easier for them to reach the child if they need. (maybe to hand them something, or to check on them). So, if you’re traveling with someone in the passenger’s seat, it’s efficient and convenient.
A few downsides of the behind-the-seat position:
It’s not safe nor efficient if you’re driving alone. I prefer to be able to hand my kid their toy without awkwardly bending my arm.
And imagine you’re not parked next to the pavement. Then the story about not circling the car wouldn’t add up.
To offset that risk, I avoid opening car doors into traffic. I wouldn’t want to watch out for cars every time I get my baby out of the vehicle.
Behind the Front Passenger’s Seat
This is a much better way to reach your child while driving, isn’t it?
A few reasons main reasons for that:
- You can get your child out on the pavement side – safety-wise, that’s a massive plus
- You can hand your child milk, snacks, and a pacifier at all times – very convenient I’m sure you agree
- Most importantly, it’s much safer than placing the child seat behind the driver’s seat.
Again, it is not safer than the middle rear seat, but it’s not the worst either.
Downsides of the behind-the-front seat position
If you’re not being careful, constantly checking up on your baby can distract you. When you’re driving, this can cause a lot of trouble.
My advice is to choose this option and stay focused on driving.
Otherwise, what was all that talk of safety for?
Car seat behind driver or passenger for newborns – a hack
Before we go any further, let’s resolve any concerns about placing the car seat in the backseat.
Your baby starts crying.
The car seat is rear-facing, so you can’t see what’s happening.
Did the pacifier fall out? Does the baby miss the toy? Do they miss your face?
You’d also want to know whether the baby is sleeping or not.
A tip that I’d give you here is to use the backseat baby mirror.
It’s a convenient way to keep an eye on your baby at all times.
Infant car seat driver or passenger side – an alternative
Have you heard about positioning the baby car seat in the front passenger’s seat?
If the answer is “no,” there’s a good reason for it.
Let me explain…
We talked about two things:
- Safety in the case of a crash
- Staying focused while driving
The front passenger’s seat doesn’t do any good for either.
Rear seats are much safer.
The passenger side is near the most common side of impact. The airbag would hit the baby’s car seat and push it forward in a crash.
And if we’re being honest, you’d be constantly checking up on your kid.
Child in the passenger seat should be your last option
If you can’t avoid it, bear this in mind:
- No child under the age of 12 should be in a seat with a passenger airbag – if you’re driving a child in the front seat, deactivate the airbags.
- It’s all about getting them away from the dashboard – push the passenger’s seat as further back as possible.
Do you put the infant car seat behind the driver or the passenger?
This section is for those with two kids.
There are three possible scenarios:
- You have a child that needs a car seat and one that doesn’t
In this case, it wouldn’t be wise to position the car seat in the middle in a forward-facing position.
Why, when it’s the middle seat is the safest?
Your child who doesn’t need a car seat would then have no protection at all.
What’s the solution?
The child that doesn’t need a car seat should sit in the middle. And for the baby – place
the forward-facing car seat behind the passenger seat.
This way, everyone will be safe.
- You have either two-front facing or two rear-facing car seats
How to approach this?
Place the younger child in the middle seat and the older one behind the passenger.
- You have one forward-facing and one rear-facing car seat
The forward-facing one should be in the middle and the rear-facing one behind the passenger seat.
Why is that?
A rear-facing car seat is safer, so it’s wise to place it in the middle.
Why is rear-facing safer
Children under the age of 3 (or 5, whenever they reach the maximum height and weight for their seat) should stay in a rear-facing car seat.
Yes, it’s all about their safety.
- Riding in a rear-facing car seat helps supports the child’s head.
- The car seat absorbs the energy of the crash and distributes it along with the child’s head, neck, and back.
- The risk of spinal cord injury is much lower.
- The head would be pulled forward with forward-facing car seats, putting stress on the neck.
With all this in mind, it’s not too much of a puzzle about what to choose.
Resume and conclusions
According to your priorities and needs, there are both advantages and disadvantages to each of the options mentioned. You have to figure out what’s important for you and act according to that.
After thorough research, I’m still a “fan” of the middle rear seat. With it, there’s no mistake to be made.
Although, I would understand if you disagree with me.
When I got my first child, I was constantly worried about everything. I thought something horrible would happen if I weren’t paying attention to my baby at all times.
So I get it that opting for a position outside of arm’s reach isn’t so attractive.
Also, I can imagine that a mom who had a C-section wouldn’t want to turn to the backseats constantly.
Whichever option you choose, make sure it’s the safest one for your situation.
Steph is a passionate mom who co-founded Wumblers to share her parenting journey with others. She graduated from Concordia University with a masters degree in Education Technology and worked as an advisor for many years. Steph loves being a mom and wants to have more kids.
Learn more about Steph and Wumblers here.