Where is the Least Risky Place for Children to Ride?

Recent Research on Seating Positions

This article originated in the July/August 2008 issue of Safe Ride News.

Children from birth through age 3 seated in the center rear have a 43 percent lower risk of injury than those in rear-seat side positions, according to a recently published analysis of data from the Partners for Child Passenger Safety (PCPS) project of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

Data on actual crash outcomes for restrained children in State Farm-insured vehicles in crashes in 16 states and D.C. were analyzed to look at seating patterns and serious injuries.  Cases included 4,790 crashes of model year 1990 and newer vehicles in which 5,358 children were involved.  Almost half of the children in the PCPS study population were riding alone in the back seat (48.5 percent) and most others were with one other passenger (43.0 percent).  Overall, about the same number were riding in the driver-side and center rear positions (30.6 and 28.2 percent respectively) while more (41.2 percent) were in the passenger-side rear.

When a child was alone in the back seat, he/she was most likely to be restrained in the center rear (41.4 percent). Younger children, who were more likely to be riding rear facing, were more often seated in the center than older children.

In these crashes, 237 children ages 0 through 3 were injured.  For children seated on the side, the injury risk was 0.27 percent on the passenger side and 0.29 percent on the driver side, an insignificant difference.  The risk in the center was 0.17 percent, a reduction of 43 percent compared to the side positions.  When further compared to the risk on the struck side, the child in the center had a 54 percent reduced risk of injury.

The researchers concluded that a properly selected and used CR is very effective to reduce or prevent injury in any position.  However, if space is available in the center seat and a tight installation is possible, that position will provide a significantly lower risk of injury.

In another study, Adrian Lund (Accident Analysis 2005) found no significant difference between the side and center positions.  However, there were substantial differences between the studies.  Lund used NHTSA data on crashes that included much older vehicle models with different restraint and other design characteristics.  He also looked at all injuries, while the CHOP study looked only at more serious injuries. The authors note that these conclusions may not be generalizable to older (pre-1990) vehicles or uninsured families.

The different levels of risk for children seated in driver-side and passenger-side positions are explored in a just- published paper that will be covered in the next issue.


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