A Disabled Airbag May Go Off
Is perhaps the most common myth regarding front seat car seat safety. And it’s simply not true. It simply does not happen when you are able to disable the airbag in your vehicle either by a key or a button!
NB! Always check your vehicle manual’s instructions regarding disabling of the airbag!
Deactivated airbags that are deactivated either by key or button (depending on what your vehicle manual states are the correct way to deactivate the airbag) is NOT going to suddenly go off in a crash. There is no “maybe” on this. It does-not-happen! Neither does it happen if the airbag has been disabled by a car technician at a garage.
The whole purpose of a vehicle manufacturer giving you the ability to turn off the front passenger airbag – is so that you can put a rear-facing car seat in the front. That is the sole purpose of this option. This would not exist if there was any dispute about it being safe. Neither would they apply Isofix points to the front passenger seats (like we had in our Scenic).
NB!It is illegal to place a rear-facing child seat in the front passenger seat with an active airbag! Life altering or fatal injuries may occur!
However, if you have a car make like Mercedes where the airbag is disabled by a sensor – that is something completely different and this only works with Mercedes own car seats. Therefore we would never advise using a car seat in the front of such a car that only has a sensor and not a full deactivation option.
So where does this myth originate from?
A lot of the source info on children being safer in the back seat – is taken from America where vehicles with an airbag deactivation option are uncommon (or used to be uncommon), unlike most of our current EU cars. So to battle this the advice is to simply have all children in the back seat.
The front passenger seat is the most common place to have a baby and ERF child car seat in Sweden for example. Which as been doing extended rear facing since the early 1960s – so I would say that speaks for itself when you look at their child injury rate per year, which is the lowest in the world (=0-5).
In America, there have been reported cases of deployed air bags – but what is never mentioned is that the airbag wasn’t turned off in the first place. And as I stressed further up in the post – an active airbag behind a rear facing car seat – kills.
Why is the front seat a good option?
Rear facing in the front passenger seat often give children the opportunity to rear face for longer. There is more space in the front seat – which is great when anecdotal evidence shows that many parents choose to forward face too early because they fear for children’s legs when they notice they are bent or touching the back of the seat.
- Better communication with the child: Parents spent more than three minutes of a 16-minute trip with their eyes off the road when kids were in the car. A new study from the Monash University Accident Research Center shows that it’s a full 12 times more dangerous to drive with children in the car because of the distraction. By using the front seat a driver can look at the child through peripheral vision and keep the focus on the road.
- Excellent protection: The dashboard is an extremely strong part of the car. Yes, a rear facing child is closer to the impact in a frontal collision – but they also follow “the crash pulse” better.
- Flexibility: Families with more than two children might sometimes struggle to get 3 car seats across the back seat – which can affect the children’s safety. Using the front seat increases the chance that everyone in the car is safely restrained.
Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute (VTI) and the National Society for Road Safety (NTF) performs crash tests and examines difficult crashed vehicles. They believe that a car seat placed rear-facing in the front seat has a good location.
From Folksam (large insurance company very involved in car seat research):
Place your child facing backwards. The risk to small children killed or seriously injured is five times greater in the forward-facing seats than in rear-facing. It shows both our own and others’ research. The safest way is to go backwards in the front seat with the airbag deactivated.
From VTI (Crash test facility which is among the highest regarded in the world. Crash testing of car seats since 1960’s):
From a safety point of collision are several benefits to having the baby in the front seat without an airbag. The risk of injury is slightly lower in a frontal collision if the child is sitting in a rear-facing seat, leaning against the dashboard, compared with a rear-facing car seat in the back seat leaning against the front seat backrest.
From BeSafe (well-respected car seat manufacturer in Europe.):
The location of the car seat in the front or rear passenger seat is the equivalent of crash safety. By contrast, allows the front seat usually greater leg room, making the children can travel rearward facing higher up in age. Therefore, we should as far as possible to meet parents’ demands for access to both the front and rear passenger seats.
From the National Road Administration (NHTSA over here):
Should children sit in the front or back seat? The back seat is generally the safest – if only considering the risks involved in a crash. But it does not apply to children in rear-facing car seats. Provided that the passenger airbag is switched off, there is no difference in the crash between the front and rear seats.
(0-9 months): Front or back seat?
The infant seat is placed facing backwards in the front or back seat. For those who are alone in the car it is usually safest to have the baby rear facing in the front seat. Passenger airbag must be disconnected.
From Folksam, Insurance company involved in car seat research:
Where it is safest to sit? In the front or back seat? Provided that the airbag is switched off, it is no bigger difference for safety between the front and rear seats.
Where in the car it is best to baby sit? In a Volvo all seats are equally safe, it depends more
on other circumstances where you place the baby.
From VTI: (one of the most respected crash test facilities in the world. Crash testing and advocate of rear facing since 1960)
Generally considered to be placed in the front seat promote road safety in comparison with the driver to try to control a troublesome child in the back seat.
Therese has completed the ‘Advanced Child Car Seat Training Course’ at TRL (Transport Research Lab) and is a CPD accredited car seat expert. She blogs about in-car safety, car seats, tips, reviews, giveaways and advice. She’s a mum on a mission to change the law and raise awareness. She is also a breastfeeding advocate and gentle parenting promoter who loves cloth nappies, baby-wearing, BLW and co-sleeping/bed-sharing.