What is the Safest Seat for a Child if a Car Accident Occurs?

During the 1990s, conventional wisdom said the rear seat was the safest seating position for child car passengers.  Then again, conventional wisdom during the 1940s said that cigarettes were good for your health.  As technology and scientific knowledge advance, it’s always worth revisiting old ideas about best practices to prevent or reduce child injuries in car accidents.  Several studies have been conducted with this exact goal in mind – with some surprising (and not-so-surprising) results.  In this article, our car accident injury lawyers find out what modern research has to say about what’s really the safest seat for a child.

Is it Safer for Children to Be Seated in the Rear or Front of a Car?

In 2009, traffic safety researchers conducted a large-scale study to analyze front and rear seat injury rates among children injured in more than 10,000 accidents across more than a dozen states.  In the researchers’ own words, “Design improvements to frontal air bags for vehicles of model year 1998 and newer have reduced the risk of injury to child occupants exposed to their deployment.  These changes… give impetus for the reconsideration of rear seating recommendations for child occupants.”

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Based on the aforementioned improvements to front seat safety, you might expect the front seat to outperform the rear seat in terms of injury prevention.  Yet the study, which was published in Traffic Injury Prevention, did not expose any information that would uphold this idea.  In fact, it strongly confirmed existing knowledge that the back seat is statistically the safest option.  Here’s what the researchers concluded, based on the data uncovered by the study:

“When stratified by model year… all age group/model year combinations demonstrated a crude rear row injury risk that was lower than that of the front row…  Children in the rear row(s) were one half to two thirds as likely to sustain injury than those in the front after adjusting for potentially confounding crash, vehicle, and child factors.”

In this instance, it’s clear that conventional wisdom has withstood the test of time: the rear seat really is the safest place for a child.  Yet the seat’s location within the vehicle isn’t the only factor which has a bearing on safety.  Where infant and toddler passengers are concerned, one must also consider which direction a child seat is facing.

Rear-Facing vs. Forward-Facing Seats: Which is Best for Each Age Group?

This issue has also been analyzed by researchers.  A 2007 study published in Injury Prevention, which is part of the highly-regarded BMJ family, arrived at a straightforward conclusion after crunching 15 years’ worth of government data on car accident injuries to children under two years old:

“Children in forward-facing car seats (FFCSs) were significantly more likely to be seriously injured than children restrained in rear-facing car seats (RFCSs) in all crash types…  Effectiveness estimates for RFCSs (93%) were found to be 15% higher than those for FFCSs (78%).”

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But that’s more than just a useful piece of information – it’s also part of Oklahoma’s laws.  Since taking effect on November 1, 2015, the Oklahoma Child Passenger Safety Law requires all children under two years old to be seated in a rear-facing car seat.

When it comes to older children, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) makes the following recommendations:

  • For children aged two to five years old, a forward-facing car seat should be used until the child “reach[es] the upper weight or height limit of that seat.”
  • Children ages five and up should be buckled into a booster seat until they are large enough for a seatbelt to fit them properly. The CDC recommends 57” (4’9”) as the optimal height to begin using a seatbelt.
  • For children who can properly fit into a seatbelt, a booster seat is no longer necessary. A child is properly buckled in when:
    • The shoulder belt fits across the child’s chest – not the child’s neck, which can cause serious spinal cord injuries to the cervical spine (the portion of the spinal cord contained in the neck).
    • The lap belt fits across the child’s thighs – not the child’s stomach, which can cause serious abdominal injuries like internal bleeding and perforations of the gastrointestinal tract. GI tract injuries and cervical injuries are common hallmarks of “seatbelt syndrome,” the colloquial term for a distinct pattern of severe injuries caused by improper positioning of a seatbelt.

These studies and recommendations satisfactorily address the question of front-to-back safety; but what about side-to-side?  Does it make any statistical difference whether a child is seated in the middle seat, as opposed to window seats?

Again, the answer lies in an analysis of quantitative accident data – and the findings are consistent with what you would probably expect.  According to a 2007 study published in the Journal of Trauma, children seated in the window seat on the accident side consistently sustained more severe injuries to the head, torso, and limbs than children who were seated in the middle seat or the far window seat.  In fact, the study found that “center-seat and far-side occupants had severe injuries only when unrestrained,” which highlights the tremendous importance of proper buckle and seatbelt use.

The Oklahoma City Car Accident Lawyers of Hasbrook & Hasbrook Care About Your Legal Matter

If your child was injured in an automotive accident in Oklahoma City or the surrounding area, an Oklahoma City car accident attorney of Hasbrook & Hasbrook can help you fight for compensation for your family.  Call our law offices at (405) 698-3040 to set up a free and confidential legal consultation.