OBJECTIVE. Current guidelines for optimal restraint of children in motor vehicles recommend the center rear seating location for installing a child-restraint system. However, recent research on child occupants in child-restraint system has brought this into question. The objective of this study was to describe seating position patterns among appropriately restrained child occupants aged 0 to 3 years in the rear row of vehicles. In addition, we determined the association between rear row seating location and risk of injury.

METHODS. We studied data collected on child occupants from December 1, 1998, to December 31, 2006, via insurance claim records and a validated telephone survey. The study sample included child occupants aged 0 to 3 years seated in a child-restraint system in the rear row of the vehicle, model year 1990 or newer, involved in a crash in 16 states. Children were classified as injured if a parent or driver reported an injury corresponding with Abbreviated Injury Scale scores of ≥2.

RESULTS. Seating position distribution for child occupants was as follows: left outboard (31%), center (28%), and right outboard (41%). There was an inverse relationship between the center position and increasing child age (39% for occupants <1 year old versus 18% for occupants 3 years old), independent of the number of additional row occupants. Child occupants seated in the center had an injury risk 43% less than children seated in either of the rear outboard positions.

CONCLUSIONS. The most common seating position for appropriately restrained child occupants in a child-restraint system is the right rear outboard. The center rear seating position is used less often by children restrained by a child-restraint system as they get older. Children seated in the center rear have a 43% lower risk of injury compared with children in a rear outboard position.

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