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Safest Place for Children is Middle Seat

Child safety seats positioned in the center of the backseat could cut infants’ and toddlers’ risk of injury by nearly half, a new study suggests.

In a study of car accident data from 16 different states, researchers found that children younger than 3 years of age were 43% less likely to suffer any injuries when their carseat was placed in the center of the backseat, rather than on one or the other side seats.

Experts have long recommended that parents position infants? and toddlers? car seats in the center of the rear seat, and the new study bolsters that advice, says Michael J. Kallan and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Unfortunately, only 28% of children in the study were actually seated in that position at the time of the car crash, the researchers report in the May 2008 issue of the journal Pediatrics.

However, the researchers do acknowledge that there are challenges involved in placing a carseat in the center position of the backseat. It is physically more difficult to strap in a child, especially a heavier child, into a center-positioned seat. A centered child seat can also make it difficult to impossible for others to sit in the backseat of the car comfortably.

But based on the current findings, the researchers insist that the center position is still the safest place for babies and toddlers to ride.

The results of the study are based on data from 4,790 car crashes that occurred between 1998 and 2006, which involved children ages 3 and younger. At the time of the accident, 41% of the children were seated in a carseat positioned in the right-hand side of the backseat, while 31% were in the left-hand side.

While least popular, the center position was the safest. This is partly because children in a centered seat were better protected during a side-impact crash, Kallan’s team reports.

“Recommendations should continue to encourage families to install child-restraint systems in the center of the rear seat,” the researchers said.

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