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Can I put baby in the front seat
Q: I just had my first baby. I want to put her in her car seat in the front seat of the car so I can keep an eye on her and make sure she doesn’t choke or anything. But the nurse at the hospital told me I should put my baby in the back seat. Is the back seat really safer? How do I know she’s OK?
Margaret Dayton
A: Margaret, congratulations on your new baby! There’s a lot to learn about safety for babies, and it’s good you’re getting advice from nurses. Also, be sure to take your baby to her medical check-ups at 1, 2, 4, 6, 9 and 12 months of age, and ask your doctor any questions you may have. You might also consider taking a parenting class at your local community college or community centre.

We’ve learned a lot about car seat safety in recent years. In 1996, it was discovered that the front seat was very dangerous for young children. Even in low-speed crashes, babies were dying when they were hit by front seat airbags. In addition, the front seat placed children closer to the point of impact in front-end crashes, which are usually the most deadly. And unrestrained children in the front seat tended to hit the hard dashboard and be thrown through the windshield of the car, which could be fatal.

Since then, all safety experts have recommended that children ride in the back seat from infancy through age 12. Babies should start in the back seat in a rear-facing infant seat up to 1 year and 20 pounds; then a forward-facing child car seat up to 4 years and 40 pounds; then a booster seat up to 8 years and 80 pounds; then a seat belt afterward. Many states have also passed laws requiring children to be in the back seat using the appropriate safety restraint for the age and size. Parents can get a ticket and a fine if their children are not safely restrained.

The National Safety Council recently completed a study of car crashes between 1996 and 2003. They found a large drop in the number of children who died in car crashes. About 200 children’s lives were saved each year, most from being put in the back rather than front seat.

It’s understandable that you’d want to check on your baby when she’s riding in the back seat of the car. Here are some options:
  • Hang a non-breakable mirror from the back seat, facing your baby. Angle the mirror so that, from the driver’s seat, you can glance into your rearview mirror and see your baby in her mirror. With some mirrors, your baby can even entertain herself by watching herself.
  • Whenever possible, have someone else drive so you can sit in the back seat.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician