The Safest Seat in the Car: You Might Be Surprised

You may scowl at the thought of sitting in the middle seat, but it turns out it’s the safest place to be. Find out why.

The safest seat in the car

As kids we all hated getting stuck in the middle seat of the car. The blasted floor hump, the lack of personal space … there’s no doubt the game of “shotgun” was invented solely to help us avoid the dreaded middle seat. But our bullying older siblings may have actually been doing us a favor. Turns out, the middle seat is the safest seat in the car.

You might already know that the backseat is safer than the front, but just how much safer required some investigation. Enter the researchers from University of Buffalo who studied crash-related fatalities in relation to seat location. It turns out the backseat is 59 to 86 percent safer than the front seat. More astounding (at least to us) is that the middle seat is 25 percent safer than the window seats in the back.

Why is the middle seat safest?

The middle seat offers the most distance from impact during a collision (sometimes referred to as crumple zone). So if you get hit at an intersection, the outer seat will take more of a direct hit, while the middle seat remains relatively insulated.

Interestingly, the researchers in Buffalo noted that the average age of the backseat passengers in their study was 20 years, but the average age of the middle backseat passengers was only 15.4 years. Perhaps this goes to show that no matter how old we get, we can still play the “older sibling” card.

Best place for kids and car seats

According to both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the middle seat is safest for kids too. In fact, the NHTSA recommends that all children under the age of 13 ride in the back — ideally in the center. But there’s a major caveat to this recommendation: the middle car seat is only safest if a full seat belt (rather than just a lap belt) is used. So if you’re driving an older car without a full, 3-point seat belt, your children are better off sitting in a back window seat.

The rear center seat is also recommended as the best place for kids’ car seats. In fact, the AAP found that children in the rear center seat have a 43 percent lower risk of injury than children in the rear window seats. Check your state’s child-safety laws for more info on child restraint requirements.

Applying this safest seat knowledge

Now that you’re equipped with this “insider” knowledge, it’s time to use it to your advantage. Next time you’re riding as a passenger, graciously offer to take the middle seat. You’ll look gallant and be safer too. Granted, if only 2 people are traveling in the car, it may seem weird to climb in the backseat, Miss Daisy-style. Still, wherever you end up sitting, remember always to wear your seat belt. Stay safe out there (and check out our other safety tips to help stay informed)!

Along with protecting yourself and your loved ones, keep your car protected by investing in car insurance you can count on. Get your quote from Esurance today.

Related links

Latest news on child car safety from the NHTSA
3 tips on car seats
The physics of seat belt safety

18 Responses to “The Safest Seat in the Car: You Might Be Surprised”

  1. Avatar for Jessica Guerin
    January 9, 2013 #

    That's not that a crumple zone is.

  2. Avatar for Jessica Guerin
    March 10, 2013 #

    with seat belt and Away from the door is safe.

  3. Avatar for Jessica Guerin
    April 11, 2013 #

    There's nothing suprising about common sense!! Hey did you guys know the safest place to be during a tornedo is ina basement!!

    • Avatar for Jessica Guerin
      meme king
      May 1, 2015 #


  4. Avatar for Jessica Guerin
    April 17, 2013 #

    Well as much as seems like common sense to me as well. You would not believe how many people have said to me why would you put your baby's car seat in the middle. I always respond with a look like did you really just ask that then I explain why its there. The normal response is oh well I never thought of it that way but doesn't it make it hard to get her in and out. Well yeah it does but I'd rather spend the extra 2 minutes to get in the car and get her out than I would risk her safety. DUH!! Ppl are ridiculous sometimes.

  5. Avatar for Jessica Guerin
    April 21, 2013 #

    Hmmm, I think if you are going to post about the safest place to sit in the car you should maybe use a picture of children that are properly buckled in to the car. Some idiot is going to think that it is safe for a child to sit in the middle without a seatbelt, and yes there are idiots out there that will think this.

    • Avatar for Jessica Guerin
      January 17, 2014 #

      My thoughts exactly!!!

  6. Avatar for Jessica Guerin
    April 21, 2013 #

    Wonder how many millions of dollars were wasted on this study?

    • Avatar for Jessica Guerin
      July 23, 2013 #

      Wonder how many thousands of dollars you'll be spending when your child is in the hospital because you didn't put the car seat in the middle of the back seat?

  7. Avatar for Jessica Guerin
    June 24, 2013 #

    And rear face your children as long ad you can! Rear face in a car seat till they outgrow the seat which most convertable seats will rearface till 40pounds! Rearfacing is the safest for kids!

  8. Avatar for Jessica Guerin
    July 18, 2013 #

    The weirdest thing is, none of the three children in this photo, are actually wearing seat belts!!

    • Avatar for Jessica Guerin
      September 27, 2013 #


  9. Avatar for Jessica Guerin
    July 20, 2013 #

    Shoot my kids argue over who gets the middle! Maybe they're smarter than the writer of this article…

  10. Avatar for Jessica Guerin
    October 19, 2013 #

    Hate to break it to you but your article is somewhat misleading. Your sources refer to child safety seats. They do not mention adults. If your post intends to cover all people of all shapes, sizes and age…I think you are wrong. Every vehicle is different. These statements generalize.

    Yes it is logical that in certain collisions certain people may be safest there. It is indeed the furthest from most any impact zone.

    However, many middle rear seats are a bit higher, leg room is split between the bump on the middle of most all non SUV vehicles due to the space needed for the drive shaft &/or transmission linkage, fuel lines, and other depending on the vehicle.

    Most rear middle seats lack a shoulder strap and only have a lap belt. Just a lap belt is very dangerous in many accidents. Is very hard to wear properly all the time and not have it slip up above the hips. This can cause serious injury.

    It is also presents the case where a person sitting there has little more to safeguard impact. Their heads generally do not have a seat back to absorb impact in a rear end accident. If they are only provided a lap belt, their torso, and everything attached to it – is going to slam forward hitting the center console. Hopefully they hit the padded center console if there is one.

    I was in a car, in the back seat, drivers side – that was in an accident due to a drink driver. Out of the five passengers in the vehicle, only the 19 year old sitting in the middle seat died.

    They may be the best place in certain cars to sit for safety, but I did not see any statistics on adults…and most of Americans do not have vehicles that are fairly new that made have better designed rear middle seats.

    I appreciate the advice and research you have done. I think the advice and statistics about safest placement of child safety seats was spot on.

    I just wish this article didn't feel like the way comes across, which is simply the generalization of the safest seat.

  11. Avatar for Jessica Guerin
    November 26, 2013 #


  12. Avatar for Jessica Guerin
    geno as in genos pizza
    December 8, 2013 #

    it anazes me how all these geniouses know so much more than the people doimg the testing when did they perform their tests

  13. Avatar for Jessica Guerin
    Stan in Orlando
    December 27, 2014 #

    How about the mix of one child in child seat, plus one adult, in rear seat? Should child still be in center? What if adult is doesn't really fit next to child seat? What if adult will only fit if child seat is on other side? Is it worth taking a second vehicle somewhere, or taking a less fuel efficient older (but bigger) vehicle, to avoid putting child in rear outboard position? Both vehicles have side curtain airbags, which are a big deal in IIHS testing but I don't see that issue addressed in the whole "center is better for kids" discussion. Our family wants to be safe as possible but are conflicted over these issues.


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