If a child is under age 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends he ride in the back seat, due to the danger of airbags. While airbags have saved numerous adult lives, they have the potential to kill children. The back seat is the safest place for the child to ride.
Even with the additional safety provided by the back seat, a seat belt alone does not provide sufficient protection for most children. Until age 2, the best safety for a child is in a rear facing car seat. From 2 until 5, the child needs the protection of a forward facing car seat. After that, he should use a booster seat until the seat belt fits correctly, which is usually when he is at least 57 inches tall.
According to Parents.com, some car seats are incompatible with the seat belts found in certain makes of vehicles. It recommends testing the seat in the car before buying. If a store does not allow testing, parents should check the return policy before they buy and ask for a refund on any seat that does not fit.
Once the child outgrows the booster seat, a three-point lap belt provides the greatest safety. Parents driving older vehicles that provide only a lap belt for the center position in the rear seat should still insist the third child wear the belt. A lap belt alone is safer than no belt at all.