We have a four-year-old who weighs 32 pounds, a three-year-old who weighs 27 pounds and a new baby on the way around Thanksgiving. We mostly drive in the city and to Aurora to see family. We’re looking for a seven-seater SUV and are leaning towards a Subaru Ascent. Can we put the newborn in a rear-facing baby seat on a second-row captain’s chair? This way we can have both of the older ones in the back row. Are there any concerns about the captain’s chair or the third row? – Steve, Toronto
As long as your kids are in a properly-installed car seat, they’re safe anywhere in your vehicle – as long as its not the front seat, experts say.
Still, some spots in the second and third row might, technically, be safer than others.
“For seating location in a three-row vehicle, the second row is preferred because it is farthest away from front and rear impacts,” said Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), in an e-mail. “However, we haven’t seen real-world data to show that the third row presents a significant risk to children riding back there – most rear impacts are not severe.”
Ideally, the safest spot for a car seat is in the middle spot on a second-row bench seat, says Sarah Haverstick, safety advocate with car-seat manufacturer Evenflo.
There’s less chance of a child getting injured in the middle of the back seat than on either the driver side or the passenger side.
But if that isn’t practical because you have more kids than second-row spots or if you have captain’s seats instead of a bench, you shouldn’t worry.
“If you have a second-row bench, the centre seat is the furthest from any point of impact – but I don’t want parents to think that’s the only safe option,” says Haverstick. “Unless your car manufacturer has said otherwise, and I can’t think of any who say you can’t use the third row, you can use any position, as long as the car’s seats face forward.”
Transport Canada just says to install car seats in the rear seat – because the front passenger seat airbag could hurt or kill a child under 12 in a crash – but it doesn’t specify which row or seat position is best.
“The general recommendation is that children sit in the back seat, which includes the second and third rows of the vehicle,” said Stephanie Cowle, director or knowledge transition with Parachute, a nonprofit that focuses on injury prevention. “In many cases, installing a rear-facing or forward-facing car seat in a captain’s chair will be fine, as long as it can be done safely ... it is important to check your vehicle manual and car seat manual.”
Car seats can be confusing to install. To oversimplify, you can install most car seats with either the seatbelt or the LATCH system. LATCH, which stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, is supposed to make car installation easier. But not every spot in a vehicle has them.
In the Subaru Ascent, for instance, car seats can be installed safely anywhere in the second or third row, Subaru Canada says. Since the third row has only one seat with the lower LATCH anchor, you’d have to use the seatbelt for one of the car seats.
“When the appropriate car seat is used and is installed correctly, using LATCH or the seatbelt is equally safe,” Cowle says. “If using LATCH, be aware of the weight limit, which is usually a combination of the car-seat weight and the child’s weight.”
If you’re putting car seats in the third row of any vehicle, make sure the base fits snugly against the seat cushion and doesn’t stick out too much over the edge of the seat.
“Some seats in the vehicle, particularly in the third row, might not be as deep as others,” Cowle says. “For most car seats, the base of the car seat must be at least 80 per cent on the vehicle seat – for booster seats, 100 per cent of the base of the seat must be fully on the seat.”
Since some third rows are snug, make sure you child has enough leg room. Plus, it’s a good idea to keep kids rear-facing as long as you can, Haverstick says.
In a rear-facing seat, the child is pushed into the back of the seat during a frontal crash. The seat absorbs the crash forces and the child’s head and neck isn’t thrown forward.
“In this care, the second child, at 27 pounds, could easily sit rear-facing,” Haverstick says. “Fitting a rear-facing seat into the third row could be a challenge, depending on the vehicle – but it’s not impossible.”
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