The rear center position is considered the safest seating location in a vehicle due to the distance from any crash impact. However, it is extremely important that children are away from the frontal air bag system, and should sit in a rear seating position. If a child is no longer in a car seat and is using the adult seatbelt (with a booster seat until 4'9" tall) they need to be in a seating position with a lap and shoulder belt. Positions with a lap belt only will not adequately restrain any passenger and can result in serious head, neck, internal and spinal cord injuries.
The major concern regarding children in the front passenger seat is the air bag system. Anyone seated in front of an airbag should be positioned as far away from the airbag as possible. Therefore a child in the front seat should no longer be using a booster seat (4'9"or taller), and the seat should be moved as far back as possible. Additionally the child needs to sit properly in the seat and not lean forward into the potential path of an airbag deployment. Based on the physical and emotional maturity needed to safely sit in the front seat the recommended age is twelve years or older. However, the rear seating positions are still considered the safest.
Lower Anchors and Tethers (LATCH)
LATCH is an acronym for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. The LATCH system was designed to make child restraints and motor vehicles more compatible so correct installation of restraints would be less difficult. The LATCH system is used instead of the seat belt and consists of two lower anchors located where the seat back meets the vehicle seat. These two anchors should be spaced eleven inches apart and most vehicles have a tag on the seat in this area indicating there is a LATCH system sometimes referred to as ISOFIX. In addition to the two lower anchors there is a rear tether anchor located somewhere behind the seat back. This rear tether location may be on the rear dash area, rear ceiling area, rear floor, or on the back of the seat. Please refer to the vehicle owner's manual to insure you are using the correct anchors. All newer model motor vehicles are required to have LATCH in at least two seating positions and rear tether anchors are required in three seating positions. All newer child restraints are also required to have LATCH belts and rear tethers to be used with the vehicle LATCH systems. Note: Please refer to your vehicle manual and child restraint manual for specific instructions.
The rear tether is a belt attached to the upper back of a child restraint and is primarily used when seats are forward facing. (Britax is the only manufacturer that uses a tether with rear facing seats.) The tether is secured to a tether anchor located somewhere behind the seat and pulled tight. Please refer to your vehicle owner's manual for tether anchor locations. If your vehicle is not equipped with tether anchors you can contact your vehicle dealership to have them installed. Tethers are designed to minimize forward movement (head excursion) in a crash and they also help stabilize the seat. If you have a forward facing seat that converts to a booster seat please refer to the manufacturer's instructions to determine if the booster should remain tethered.