2 babies, 2 cars, 3 car seats...
November 11, 2010 10:42 AM   Subscribe

Please help me find the optimal/safest positions for 3 car seats (1 infant bucket and 2 convertible seats).

We have a 22 month old and are also expecting another kid in a couple of weeks, hence the need for 3 car seats between our 2 cars. Each car has a toddler seat and the infant seat has an extra base in the second car. The toddler is front facing. Please help me determine the optimal/safest place for both car seats.

Things to consider:
Car 1: 2005 Mercedes ML 350 SUV
Car 2: 2006 BMW 3 series

Carseat 1: Chicco keyfit 30 infant seat
Carseat 2: Evenflo Triumph convertible
Carseat 3: Recaro Como convertible

Thank you.
posted by ramix to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total)
Best answer: I'm not sure what you are looking for exactly? Do you mean where on the backseat should each seat go? There's no good way to tell without experimenting, because theory and practice are two different things when it comes to fitting car seats into cars :)

In theory, the center position is the safest, so you would put the baby seat there (since baby is more delicate than toddler), but in practice, the huge depth of a baby seat may mean that both driver and front passenger cannot move their seats far enough back to be comfortable. This will especially be true in the 3 series, not sure how space the rear legroom is in a ML350. Also, if you put the baby in the center then every time you take the seat in or out you have to lean right into the middle of the car, which is a huge strain on your back and arms. I assume the 3 series is a 4 door not a 2 door? Try it out, assuming the SUV has more rear legroom you may be able to install the baby seat base in the center of that car, but probably not in the 3 series, unless the driver and front passenger are both well under 6 foot tall.

So in practice you may find that you will just have to install each seat either side of the car. I'm not aware of any safety preference for each side of the car. We chose to put the baby seat behind the front passenger, because it takes up more legroom than a convertible and the passenger can put up with reduced legroom more readily than a driver. But this depends who usually drives each car and how tall they are.

For future consideration, it is now recommended that you keep toddlers rear-facing until they are at least two years old, longer if possible, depending on the rear-facing height/weight restrictions of your convertible seat.
posted by Joh at 10:59 AM on November 11, 2010

2nding that you need to try it out.
posted by k8t at 11:04 AM on November 11, 2010

Many fire departments and other public safety organizations host carseat inspection events where they make sure your seats are installed properly and safely. I'd recommend taking your cars and seats to one of those if you can find one in your area.
posted by decathecting at 11:10 AM on November 11, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks Joh. I was told that the center is the safest position and that the least protected child ( the forward facing child) should be placed there. If that's not possible then a child behind each front seat. That is probably what we'll have to do with the BMW (4 door). However, i'm not sure which is the safest side. Some people suggest putting the least safe child be on the driver side because in the event of an accident, the driver is more likely to swerve away to prevent injury to themselves and thus protect the child. However some also suggest that the baby is more vulnerable since it's so small and lacks neck control. Ack i'm so confused!
posted by ramix at 11:14 AM on November 11, 2010

Best answer: I agree with decathecting on the public carseat inspection events. In our area, my HMO does it through one or the other of their outreach orgs (the same people who do bike helmet promotion, etc.).

In your state (according to your profile), check these links for some resources -- some are drop-in, and others require an appointment. They even have one at Ikea :) You can also contact the Safety Restraint Coalition at 425-828-8975 for local locations and appointments.
posted by Madamina at 11:57 AM on November 11, 2010

Best answer: ramix, FWIW I've always understood that the forward-facing child is the most vulnerable, and that's the one who should be in the safer (center) position as well.

You might try posting on the car-seat.org boards, they've got lots of experts there who can give you a definitive answer.
posted by shrieking violet at 12:08 PM on November 11, 2010

Best answer: Centre is the safest for the baby. However, you may want to consider safety in the event that your 22mo wants to, uh, grab the baby or poke at them, since they'll be facing each other and you will not! In this case, the safest position may be to one side, so that you can focus on driving safely and not have to rescue your newborn. Depends on how your 22mo deals with a new baby.
posted by acoutu at 12:25 PM on November 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yes Center is the safest but unfortunatley our police who installed it said "well to be blunt, no position is the safest when a semi is barreling down the road at 90 MPH and T-Bones you somehow."

Ah the way with words.

You can also look at it this way, rear facing overrides front facing as far as safety anyway so depends on fit and how you want to look at it.
posted by stormpooper at 12:57 PM on November 11, 2010

The center seat experiences more-or-less the same forces as do the side seats in a front or rear impact, so it doesn't matter how you distribute the seats in that type of accident. Meanwhile, in a side impact the direction the seat faces doesn't matter because the acceleration is off the longitudinal axis. Basically, a rear facing seat gets its advantage primarily in crashes where its lateral location doesn't matter so I'd just remove "direction the seat faces" from the equation.

The middle is safer in a side impact because it's protected from intrusion into the passenger compartment, so that's where I'd put the most fragile person, regardless of which direction the seat faces.

Baby in the middle. Toddler on whichever side works best.
posted by pjaust at 1:31 PM on November 11, 2010

And, realistically, both vehicles are pretty damn safe, so I wouldn't sweat it too much.
posted by pjaust at 1:33 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think the center is commonly stated to be 25% safer than the side and there is no statistical difference between passenger and driver's side. For a child under 2, rear facing is 500% safer in a side impact crash. So that's the thing to worry about far before starting to consider placement in the car. If one is in the middle, it definitely should be the toddler since they're forward facing so very early and are most vulnerable to side impacts by a lot. Stats nerds, study is here.

I have my 33 month old behind the passenger and my 3 month old behind the driver in our main car, both rearfacing. The best case for this setup is that the bucket is much faster to click into the base than it is to get the toddler into his seat. That means much less time with the door open into traffic if we are parked on a street. I would love it if one of them could go in the middle, but I don't consider it a high priority. It turns out that the toddler LOVES baby sister, way too much, and I'm worried about him messing with her for that reason.

Remember that seats in the middle normally must be installed with the seatbelt, not LATCH, unless the car has 3 separate sets of LATCH anchors.
posted by pekala at 1:36 PM on November 11, 2010

pjaust, the study cited in my previous comment specifically found substantial difference in severe injury/death rates in side impact collisions. Intuitively you might think that you can remove the direction the seat faces from the equation but the evidence does not indicate that's the case.
posted by pekala at 1:44 PM on November 11, 2010

In terms of baby or toddler in the center, I agree there is no good answer. The baby is more fragile than the toddler, but also is more protected by their seat. I consider it a hypothetical question, because its so hard to find situations where you actually have space to have either seat in the center!
posted by Joh at 2:01 PM on November 11, 2010

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