Why should my child ride in the center?
A national study of actual crashes shows that a child in the center has about half the likelihood of being injured, compared to a child on either side. The center position is farthest from any point of impact.
How can I decide which of my children to place in a side position?
Situations vary, and many factors must be considered. Even in the side position, CRs provide excellent protection. However, given that other studies (SRN, March/April ‘08) have shown that riding rear facing is even more protective than riding forward facing (especially in side impacts), it makes sense when deciding on placement for both a RF and FF CR to consider putting the RF CR on the side. The FF CR (or booster, if there is a lap/shoulder belt present) can then be placed in the center, if space permits and a tight fit can be attained.
This advice, based on scientific research, may be counter-intuitive to some parents, who often tend to place the youngest child in the center position. An additional benefit to this approach, however, is that having the RF seat on the side also allows for easier placement and harnessing of heavier toddlers. This added ease may make parents more willing to keep children rear facing longer.
If both children are FF, then it could be helpful to purchase CRs with advertised “side-impact protection.” The depth of side-wings and the inclusion of special energy-absorbing foam liners (EPS, EPP) may offer some additional protection, although this has not been documented yet in published studies of actual crashes.
Reference: “Seating Patterns and Corresponding Risk of Injury Among 0- to 3-year old Children in Child Safety Seats,” Kallen, MJ, Durbin, DR, Arbogast, KB, Pediatrics, 2008: 121;e1342-e1347