Question Of The Day: Which Kid Should I Stick In The Middle Seat?


Photo credit: Lars Plougmann, Flickr. 

Question: Who should sit in the middle seat - the older, larger child? Or the smaller one? 

Answer: Seating position matters in cars for safety reasons. But like any question, the answer is: It depends. The safest seat depends upon where the best seat belt for the size of your passenger is located, and the model year of your car. Yahoo Autos contacted three safety experts to find out the safest places for kids in the back seat.

Let’s look at the safest place for younger children first.

“The two most important safety rules are that all children under 13 years old should be seated in the back seat and be restrained in properly fitting safety belts,” said Carole Guzzetta, Highway Safety Specialist at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In this question, the child is 10 years old, so he should sit in the back seat. However, he may need a booster seat.  Some children between the ages of 10 and 12 need a booster seat based on the fit of the safety belts in your vehicle.

Since every car is different, the uncle should use the 5-Step Test, said Stephanie M. Tombrello, L.C.S.W., CPSTI, Executive Director of SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A. Here are the details of the he 5-Step Booster Seat test:

1. Ask the child to sit with his back against the back of the back vehicle seat.
2. Make sure that his knees can bend completely over front of the seat.
3. Confirm that the shoulder belt rests between the neck and top of the arm.
4. Most critically, the lap belt needs lay on the top of the thighs not the abdomen.
5. The child needs to be able to sit in that position for the entire trip.

If the child fails anyone of the above steps, he needs to use a booster seat to be safe.

“Be sure that the booster seat is well rated,” said Jessica Jermakian, senior research scientist  at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The IIHS rates booster seats to ensure that safety belts will fit children correctly.

Middle Seat Safest with Shoulder Harness

The middle back seat is the safest place in most crash situations, said Guzzetta, provided that the middle seat has a three-point shoulder safety belt. In 2007, NHTSA started requiring shoulder safely belts in the center back seat. If your car does not have a shoulder safety belt in the middle back seat, none of the kids should sit there.

Where Should Older Teens Sit?

In this question, the 16-year-old will be safer in the front passenger seat in car model years 2007 and newer because of the increased safety provided by air bags and more sophisticated safety belts. There is no significant difference for safety between front and back seat in model years before 2007, advises Jermakian.

We’re scouring the Internet to uncover interesting questions that people have posted looking for advice from the unwashed masses. We will contact experts to give you well-researched, professional advice. You can also submit questions to