Choosing and installing car seats for your children is a necessary, yet sometimes overwhelming task. While all car seats on the market are safe, some meet our needs better than others. When dealing with multiple child restraints in the same vehicle, the list of needs can become a tad more extensive and can, as a result, make accomplishing your task more difficult. Like with any child restraint and vehicle configuration, you want to assess how much space you have to work with, as well as any specific restraint or vehicle requirements you may have. Here are a few guidelines/tips to follow that can help make traveling with multiple children easier on you and your day. (Please refer to the end of the post for additional resources for car seat shopping)
-Always reference your vehicle manual to confirm whether or not there are any restrictions set by the manufacturer when it comes to installing restraints (car seats, boosters, etc) in certain positions. It has become increasingly common to see, for example, certain vehicles equipped with overlapping seat belts (when a buckle stalk for one passenger is placed between the lap portion and buckle stalk of the neighboring seat). If this is the case, installing 3 restraints across that row would be prohibited. This is especially common, but not limited to, some Toyota and Hyundai models. Additionally, some newer higher end model Fords, Lincolns, and Mercedes' have inflatable seat belts, which would restrict you to either a universal anchorage system (UAS) install to that particular seat of the car, if applicable, or use a restraint that allows this type of seatbelt install (currently limited to certain Britax models).
-If you need 3 restraints across is indeed allowed and required, look for narrow profile ones, especially if they will be installed facing the same direction. Some restraints are much safer bets than others for fitting 3 across. If you're working with infant seats, you could also try a baseless install so you're working with an even smaller footprint. Some restraints also prohibit any side overhang when installing a restraint outboard. Puzzling seats (placing them in alternating directions) can work to your advantage sometimes. You could install 2 rear facing seats outboard and a forward facing seat center, or vice versa. And don't forget you can load the child through the vehicle hatch if that's an option! (Read more about how long you should leave your child rear facing HERE to see if puzzling is an option for you!)
(photo credit: CARS.COM)
-A seat belt install as opposed to a UAS install will, in most cases, gain extra width. Three consecutive seat belt installs or 2 outboard seat belt installs and a center UAS install will generally be much easier to achieve than three consecutive UAS installs.
-Verify that each restraint is independently tight. A good install is one that has no more than 1'' movement at the belt path. You want to make sure each seat is installed correctly without relying on the seats next to them. To check this, install a restraint in the center position first, followed by the two outboard. Then, uninstall the center restraint and verify movement of both outboard seats. If they are independently tight, you have properly installed all 3 restraintss across the row.
-With children riding in boosters, especially those who cannot buckle themselves yet, it's easier to install them outboard to make enough space for bigger hands to buckle the belt, as opposed to doing so in between restraints and other child seats.
-Any forward facing 5-point harness seat should be top tethered (see photo below). Although not mandated by law in the US (unlike their Canadian neighbors), a top tether limits head excursion significantly. You will need to install the restraint in a seating position with a designated anchor point as indicated by the vehicle manufacturer. Most vehicles manufactured as of 2000 are equipped with 3 user-ready anchor points in a rear seating position. Their position varies by make and model so you will want to consult your vehicle manual to know where yours are located. If you need additional tether anchor points, contact your local dealership to see if you have the option to have some retrofitted to your vehicle.
-Older children who safely ride in the vehicle with their seat belt alone, or those who ride in a backless belt positioning booster, should be seated in a position that is equipped with a head restraint. Many vehicles only have headrests outboard, for example, so it's another variable to consider. (On that note, they must also ride in a lap/shoulder belt only. Lap only belts should only ever be used to install harnessed seats.) Lastly, check your vehicle manual for any restrictions on use of the third row. If none, still pay particular attention to belt fit. While not the case in all vehicles, belt fit in the third row is notoriously poor. If you are unable to achieve a safe belt fit, consider installing a harnessed seat in lieu.
Your vehicle manual and your child restraint manuals will be your most important resources when installing any car seats, and as always, contact your local Child Passenger Safety Technician for help here: http://cert.safekids.org/ in the US or here: https://canadiancarseatnetwork.com/find-a-tech/ in Canada.
For more information and a detailed list on cars to consider if you need to install 2 or more seats in your car, CLICK HERE. For more information about buying used car seats and budget friendly options CLICK HERE For information about car seat shopping in general CLICK HERE
Angela is a Canadian SAHM of 2 beautiful little girls. She left her corporate job to raise them and discovered a passion for child passenger safety (CPS) after learning she had made some critical car seat mistakes when her oldest was a baby. She loves helping keep their babies safe as a CPST (technician) and has been doing so for a little less than a year.