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Assuming the following, are there any safety reason to not put a child in the front seat? I am looking for a technical answer and not opinions e.g. the car chassi is stronger on the rear

Assumptions * child up to 5 yo * airbag is securely turned off * childseat mounted properly * car model is of high safety standards e.g. Volvo * medium/large size car * model is post 2010 * front seat moved all the way back

Ps. This is a theoretical question on car/child safety and not intended to be used by anyone to decide on child safety.

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  • I don't think I've heard of anyone ever suggesting that a car seat be put in the front seat... in fact it's usually specifically recommended against. So if you're really considering it for the sake of them not stepping out in traffic, use the child locks. That's what they're there for. "Leave one child better off" so you'd rather play all or nothing? Eh. Sorry I just don't see what you want to accomplish.
    – justinm410
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 0:40
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    Car seats are meant to go in the back seat. The biggest reason is that the front air bag in a sedan can't always be turned off. Most modern sedans have a passenger present system that shuts the air bag off if the weight on the seat is more than zero but less than 40 kilos. These systems are meant to prevent dumb people from hurting their kids. Unlike the turn key to shut off air bag system that is in coups i would not trust the automatic system to work flawlessly every time.
    – vini_i
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 0:44
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    @justinm410 having seen a few rear collisions where seats are stuck to the front seats, it feels like having both kids on the rear is the all-or-nothing choice. The reason of my post though is really due to the fact that cars have changed a lot and I am looking for answers that take this into account. If everything is done properly, I do not see why what is the problem with the front seat especially from a design perspective. Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 11:52
  • @vini_i why do you say that? Most cars, if not all, in Europe have the childseat sign on when you switch off the passenger airbag so saying that they are no supposed to go in the front can't be right. Why is the front seat more dangerous for a child? Is the car cage not rigid enough? Will the child hit the dashboard? Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 11:57
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    If you looking for someone to justify putting your child in the front seat, you won't find it here. If you want an answer to an area specific question then you have to say so. The general assumption is that you are in the US. In the US sedans aren't required to have a physical switch to shut off the passenger air bag. The front seats are designed around protecting adults not kids. If you want your kids to be 100% safe buy a tank. Otherwise ignore the manufacturer recommendations at your own risk.
    – vini_i
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 13:00

5 Answers 5

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SAFETY RISKS

  • There are more violent front and front/first half collisions than from rear
  • The engines are usually front mounted, on violent collision it may shift towards inside the car
  • The windshield, even with modern technology, can get pieces into the car. They are designed to not to shatter, but they break and they can displace towards inside.
  • In a case of incoming collision, it is known that drivers instinctively and almost unconsciously will turn in such way they shield them with the passenger side, i.e. if left hand drive, they will turn left sharply to try protect themselves with the right side of the car
  • Children can try to play with car's commanding elements, like electronics and shifter, therefore demanding attention from the driver, who should actually paying attention to traffic
  • In some cars, the air bag can actually suffocate the child since their low profile when in the front seat

SOME SAFETY BENEFITS SEATING CHILD IN REAR SEATS

  • The child should be placed behind a seat, but not too close to the doors, that way she/he gets protection by the seat cushion and profile: on front or first half collision there are many items that can fly towards the rear of the car, like mirrors, items placed over the dashboards, etc
  • The rear seats are probably the most safe place inside the car, since they are surrounded by the front seats, and the rear seats back. To some extent, they act like shields
  • Children can play with whatever they want, without adding a physical distraction to the driver
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The Joie Stages car seat is certified for use in front passenger and both rear outside seats of the Volvo S60, S80, V40 and V70. Information from the manufacturer is given here.

This seat is just one of many examples of a seat certified for use in such a way across the UK and EU. They give the specific guidance that the rear seats ought to be given preference and that it should only be fitted rearward facing in the front if the passenger air-bag is disabled.

This guidance is not unique but you should always check with the manufacturer of your specific seat for certified fitting positions.

I personally favour the front passenger set when fitting a baby seat in my Mk1 Golf Cabriolet because this seat is equipped with a 3-point harness and the rears have just lap belts.

EDIT: I would add that the certified fitting position for this seat in both Alfa Romeo MiTo and Guilietta is front passenger only and not the rear seats even though these cars both have rear bench seats.

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Once you take out the obvious things like turning off the air bag it is all just simple statistics. You are more likely to survive or not be injured in the back seat this study shows that you are 29% more likely to survive a crash in the back seat and being in the middle of the back seat gives you another 25% boost over that.

This kind of makes sense if you think of the front seat as a crumple zone for the back seat. Sure, you can come up with a case where is might be better to be up front. But the actuaries still say the back is better, and if there is anyone who knows about life and death it is actuaries.

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  • Thanks for linking that study about back seat safety. Unfortunately, the data is from accidents which occurred in 2000 to 2003, where the average age of a vehicle on the road would be nearly 10 years old. Over half of the vehicles in that study will be from before the IIHS started moderate overlap crash testing, and the resulting vehicle changes. Another huge problem with such studies is they don't separate belted versus unrestrained fatalities. Additionally, the popularity of hatch backs and SUVs have made such a change in rear end crash safety that this study is mostly irrelevant today. Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 0:17
  • For instance, say a study shows that occupants seated in the rear seats are 10% less likely to be fatally injured in an accident. Then an improved study comes out showing that unrestrained occupants in rear seats are 45% less likely to die in an accident, but restrained occupants in rear seats are 5% more likely to die in an accident. This detail changes everything. A person who cares about safety doesn't need to consider unrestrained occupants. Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 0:45
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As far as I know, the reason for putting children in the back is seat due to the following reasons:

  1. The airbag is not properly sized and positioned for a child and can injure a child. An airbag deployment combined with a rear facing child seat can easily kill a child.
  2. In a frontal collision, the collapsing structure of the car can intrude in to passenger compartment, making the rear seats safer for anyone.
  3. The rear middle seat provides the best side impact crash protection. It's been called the orphan seat, since in a severe accident a rear facing child seat in the middle rear seat of the vehicle is often the only survivor.

With the airbag disabled, #1 no longer applies. #2 is somewhat obsolete advice, because modern vehicles have much stronger front end crash structures. Significant intrusion in to the front passenger compartment is not so common anymore. The stronger crash structure also exposes all passengers in the car, front or rear, to higher G forces in a crash. When a high speed front end crash does happen to the point where intrusion in to the front passenger compartment occurs, it's often at such a high speed that every forward facing passenger in the car, in the front or the rear, is killed. An older weaker car may have allowed the rear passengers to survive at the expense of crushing the front passenger compartment. Many compact hatchback cars have such small rear ends that they provide very poor protection in a rear end accident, especially if hit by a tall vehicle such as a SUV.

If the front seat does not have an active airbag, and it's a modern car, the only significant advantage of placing a child seat in the rear is if it is rear facing or placed in the middle seat. If the vehicle is a compact hatch back, it can actually be more dangerous to have passengers riding in the rear seats, and that includes children, especially in forward facing child seats.

There are currently no crash tests done for higher speed rear end crash protection.

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What others have said.

I'm not sure where you're located, but in the US, children up to 4'9" in height, or 13 years of age, must be seated (a site I am associated with) in the back seat. It's the law, and there are fines for not doing so.

Now, how you achieve this will depend on their age. Laws will vary from state to state, but this generally means that children up to 50 lbs will use a car seat. Those who weight more than that will use a booster seat. You can use a booster seat for children between the ages and 4 and 9 and less than 4'9" tall. More than that, and seat belts are still required. Here is a guide from CDC to help you determine which seating solution is best for your child: https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/images/child_passenger_safety/VS_cps_share_image.png

In my own research on the topic, I have read many anecdotal accounts of children whose lives have been saved, or who have been spared serious injury because they were using child safety seats correctly. There is also good research indicating that using child correctly helps reduce the risk of death or injury by up to 70%.

Also note that if you use a rear-facing seat incorrectly and place it in the front seat and an airbag accidentally deploys when turned off, the airbag can easily suffocate a child under 12 years of age.

So, keep your child safe by using the correct seating solution for his or her age and height, and by securing it correctly in the car.

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