Myth: My carseat and child will fly through the windshield in a crash if I install it in the center of the back seat so it’s better to install it behind either the driver or the passenger.
It can be a scary sight – your child has a seemingly direct, open path to the windshield. However, the notion that it’s better to have one of the front seats act as a blocker to “catch” them in a crash is a by-product of the bad old days when unrestrained kids bounced around in the back seat of the family station wagon.
Back then it was somewhat logical for people to believe that you were safer in the backseat if you had something in your way to keep you from flying like a missile out the front windshield. I’m still not sure why the obvious answer was mostly ignored… but I digress.
In reality, if your child—or anyone else, really—strikes the back of a front seat during a crash, they are at risk for serious facial, head or neck injuries. This impact can also harm the person sitting in the front seat that is being loaded from behind. Having a properly installed carseat with snug harness straps greatly reduces this possibility.
As long as you can get a proper installation in the center position, it’s perfectly safe. However, there may be circumstances that make getting a tight installation difficult or impossible. For example, some center seats are very narrow and you may not have enough room to fit a large, bulky car seat or booster. Sometimes the center position has a seatbelt that comes out of the ceiling which can make it challenging to get a tight installation. Often the center position lacks dedicated lower LATCH anchors. All of these issues can affect compatibility.
Bottom Line – once the carseat is installed properly, it should be securely attached to the back seat. And when your child is properly and snugly buckled in the carseat’s 5-point harness, it will keep your child from moving too far out of position in a crash. If your child rides in a booster seat, the seat belt is restraining them and keeping them securely in the backseat.
CONFIRMED, PLAUSIBLE OR BUSTED? This myth is BUSTED. As long as your vehicle owners manual allows a carseat installation in the center seating position AND you can get a solid installation with less than 1” of movement at the belt path, it’s perfectly safe to install your carseat in the center.