The great car seat debate

Charlie - posted on 11/12/2010 ( 38 moms have responded )

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Front seat of a car is sometimes called "suicide seat", "death trap" and "child killer" by parents on various internet forums. The Swedes, widely recognized as being 30 years ahead of other countries in car seat safety, use the front seat extensively with airbag deactivated and have an unbelievable safety record for children. What's fact and what's fiction? Is the front seat safe?

We often say that a child is as safe in the front seat as in the rear seat as long as airbag is deactivated. In reality, a child is likely even safer in the front seat when considering all the various factors.

Contrary to popular opinion, the front seat is an excellent place for a child as long as airbag is deactivated with key or switch. Trusting deactivation with a sensor, except perhaps the Mercedes solution, is something we don't feel so comfortable about. Can you trust deactivation with key or switch? Absolutely! Some of the finest and most safety conscious car brands in the world use this solution andhave done so safely for many years.

What makes front seat such a safe and practical place for a rear facing child as long as airbag is deactivated? A few reasons below:

■Optimized front seat: Cars are optimized for safety in front seat. We don't know how and when a crash will take place but we do know there will always be someone in a front seat
■Strength of dashboard: Dashboard, or what's on the inside, is the strongest point in a car. Frontal collisions account for about 75% of all accidents, protection is therefore very important and a high priority.
■Leg space for child: Parents are often (unnecessary) concerned about leg space for their child. It's a common car seat myth that children are uncomfortable or unsafe if legs are bent. Parents therefore often turn children around forward facing way too early. Using the front seat is practical and increases leg space for a child while also leaving space in the back for a passenger. We know for a fact rear facing is 500% safer than forward facing, parents using front seat often keep their child rear facing an additional year which makes a huge difference in safety.
■Less distractions: Research has shown keeping a child in front seat is less distractive than rear seat. Children are calmer, especially smaller babies, since they can see mom/dad. It's easy to communicate with a child in the front seat. Parents can also see their child in peripheral vision and focus on the road. Is your child screaming when alone in back seat? Using front seat next to mommy/daddy is likely to work much better.
■Flexible placement: Larger families, three or more young children, often struggle to find good and safe seating arrangements for their kids. Using front seat means children are more likely to sit properly restrained.
■Leg space for parents: Long rear facing time is great but not if parents are cramped in front seat or it's unusable. There are some rear facing seats in other countries which have taller seat shells and slightly higher weight limit (nothing like 25 kg. or 55 lbs though) but these seats often require an enormous amount of space. One example is the US seat Radian which has a taller seat shell than other seats but often needs so much space it makes front seat unusable. Being able to use front seat is practical and provide good leg space for child in front and also for a person in the back.
Research has shown ages ago that front seat is an excellent place for a child. Safety conscious brands such as Volvo also state very clearly that front seat is just as safe as the rear seat for car seats. Research and theory is one thing, how does rear facing in front seat work in real life? It works amazingly well.

Swedish fatality rates for children in traffic accidents aged 0-6 years are close to zero each year largely thanks to keeping children rear facing until age 4 or longer. Sweden started keeping children rear facing in 1965, a large percentage of Swedish children today sit rear facing in the front seat with airbag deactivated with fantastic results.

Using the front seat for a rear facing child is practical and very safe, this has been shown by research and real life experiences. Please remember to always deactivate airbag with key, switch or service center! Next time someone tells you front seat is "dangerous" you know it's just fiction:-)

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Charlie - posted on 11/12/2010

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Ok but statistically the most dangerous seat in the car is the rear seat behind the driver , also what about the the fact that in Sweden their child death rate (0-6) is almost nill surely that must count for something .

Eliz this is not my post it is an article someone showed me .
Also many parents make their child front facing before they are ready merely because they cant see the baby or the baby doesnt like facing away ( thank you young mums community) It could prevent a lot of this and lower child death rates .

Sharon - posted on 11/12/2010

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oh ::: psssttt!!! :::: as a forward facing passenger NOT in an accident, but something hit the windshield and it exploded - I swallowed glass. I was fine but it did happen. Yes it was a modern car with safety glass, nearly all of it stayed intact BUT fragments - tiny fragments broke off and I did swallow some/a piece.

Amanda - posted on 11/12/2010

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Honestly it depends on the accident and where the vehicle is struck. I personally don't place my children in the front seat unless it's the only option left. My 7 yr old however would be the only one allowed to sit in the front seat. I don't think its safer tho...even without the airbag...there's more glass from the windsheild more things for the child to get hit with something. I don't think cars are safe period but it's obviously transportation and extremley convinient as well. But my opinion NOPE...unless they weigh enough and are old enough.

Dana - posted on 11/12/2010

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Layce or anyone else who is saying that there will be flying glass, cars are now made with safety glass, you won't be injured by flying glass.

Even if a child is in the back seat, they can still be hit on that side of the car and get most of the impact.



Does no one account for the fact that the dash board is the most structured and durable part of a car, therefore the safest area of a car?

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[deleted account]

Leah they do sell the ones which convert from rear to front facing here in the UK but we bought a travel system which includedan infant carseat, up to 26lbs.

[deleted account]

"Ok but statistically the most dangerous seat in the car is the rear seat behind the driver ," ~ Loureen



Actually, aside from the rear middle, the next safest spot is behind the driver's seat. We took a child safety seat course while I was pregnant and in the US, on roads where people drive on the right hand side of the road and the driver is on the left side of the vehicle, the safest spots in order are : rear center, rear behind driver, rear behind passenger. I wish I could draw you the diagram the instructor drew us. Imagine a 4 lane road (two lanes going each direction). If a driver ran a redlight on the driver's side (left). He would have up to 3 lanes (the two going the opposite direction, plus one going my direction if I'm in the far right lane) to realize it and stop, before hitting my car on the left. If someone ran the redlight from the right, the most lanes of traffic he would have to realize and stop would be 1 (the far right lane, if I'm in the left lane), If I'm driving in the right lane and someone tbones me from the right, he has zero lanes to attempt to stop. According to the instructor, and this was about 3 and a half years ago, in the US, most TBONE (side impact) accidents occur on the right hand side of the car. When we had Jacob rear facing he was in the middle. But that was with the removable seat / carrier type seat. Once he outgrew that seat, we bought one that is rear or forward facing but it wouldn't sit properly in the middle so we took it back. Rather than having us go through several refund processes, the store manager at Target allowed us to take 3 different seats (one at a time) to our car to see if any of them would fit in the middle properly. None would. So we kept the one we had already paid for and put it rear facing behind the driver. At 3 years old, he's forward facing, behind the driver still. We're getting him a booster soon because his head is about half an inch from the top of the car seat and we will be putting it behind the driver as well. I'm getting one that has the 5 point harness and then can transition later when he is much bigger to just a seatbelt restraint. What I find annoying is that not every car seat is compatible with every car, but on the box or online, there's no list that says "Ok, these cars are compatible with these seats." They aren't cheap and thankfully we found a nice store manager who allowed us to do what we did but had he not been cool like that we would have probably gone through about 4 refunds before we just went back to square one and bought the first one. Now, if there had been a LIST somewhere.......

Jenn - posted on 11/13/2010

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Yes Leah, I am positive that it is not against the law and is only a recommendation. And actually, the laws would vary from province to province and not be a country wide thing anyway. If a cop pulled me over with my son in the front seat he would say absolutely nothing, because I did nothing wrong. Like I said - I would prefer he was in the back, but the only vehicle we have is a 2 door GMC Jimmy that only seats 2 in the back. That's why we can never go anywhere as a family, unless we borrow someone else's vehicle for the day. It sucks, but it is what it is and there's not much we can do about it right now.

[deleted account]

Well, that's all nice to know but it does not persuade me to allow my 5 year old to sit up front!

April - posted on 11/13/2010

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oh! I had that baby...by about 8 months old my son's legs were dangling over the edge of the car seat by a lot! and he was 20 pounds. too. he is very lean and tall.

Leah - posted on 11/12/2010

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Really Jenn? I always thought it was the law. Wonder what a cop would do if he pulled you over and you had a pre-schooler in the front seat lol. I'm pretty sure there would be some heat! Although I did know someone that only had a single row truck that had their infant car seat in the front seat with the air bag deactivated...
Not to up on the laws on this, so maybe shouldn't be commenting, but imo, unless it was a life or death situation (my mind is thinking my husband was dying and had to lay him in the back seat of the car to bring him to the hospital and put my preschooler in the front...) that's pretty much the only reason why I would put them in the front until they were ready.

And Jenn M, you guys don't have the 3 in1 car seats that can be used rear facing from 5lbs to 22lbs and then turn them around? What do you do if you have an unusually large baby that doesn't fit in his carrier after say 8 months?

Jenn - posted on 11/12/2010

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Oh - and it's not law in Canada that that have to be in the back seat - though it is recommended for kids under 13.

Jenn - posted on 11/12/2010

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My son was riding in the front seat today - I had no choice other than to not leave the house. There's no room in the back seat with the twins back there. I prefer to not have him up there, and usually he isn't. If I go anywhere it's mostly by myself or with just Phillip in the back or just the girls in the back.

April - posted on 11/12/2010

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i worry about deactivating the air bag because what if i forget to re-activate at a later time? even if i didn't ever forget..my husband def would!

[deleted account]

Luckily Logan's just went over 20lbs and he's 1 year old this month. Here the ones up to 26lbs are meant to be useable up to approk 12-18 months. He's very long though on the 85th percentile but have been told it's perfectly safe to keep using it for now as long as his head doesn't go over the top - his legs dangling is fine. My mam's bought a front facing seat suitable from 9kg approx from 9 months old for Christmas so he'll be using that before he outgrows the weight for his rearfacing one. I'm happy going by the advice given in my own country, because at the end of the day so many tests are done on these seats and they can't be sold if they are deemed unsafe. The main reason is that in front facing if their neck muscles aren't strong enough their head can "pop" off apparently. The woman asked us in Mothercare if he could sit unaided for 20 minutes and said that's why they ask.

Stifler's - posted on 11/12/2010

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They don't exist in Aus either. My kid got too fat and tall for rear facing seats at 5 months. I'm not sure what to make of this hey I agree that the front seat is optimised for safety that's for sure. I think people call it the suicide seat because of the risk of flying through the windscreen onto the road whereas in the back they can't or something.

[deleted account]

I was under the impression that the safest place for any child under the age of 12 was the back seat, unless the airbags can be disabled, but to me that defeats the point of having the safety devices there in the first place.

And rear facing seats for babies over 26lbs don't exist here in the UK =]

Lacye - posted on 11/12/2010

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Thank you Sharon. I didn't know that. :) But we can all agree that even safety glass can break.

Sharon - posted on 11/12/2010

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Ok unless you are driving a car older than a model T that has NEVER had its glass replaced then your vehicle has safety glass in it. Cars newer than the Model T have TEMPERED SAFETY glass in them.

http://auto.howstuffworks.com/car-drivin...

In 1917 a man named Pane (LMAO!) sued FORD for his injuries due to window glass in a collision. Thankfully common sense prevailed back then and Pane lost because he had been driving recklessly. But Ford soon implemented "toughened auto glass" window glass with the plastic laminate. Later came tempered auto safety glass.

Lacye - posted on 11/12/2010

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Not all of them though. But like I said, even if the glass was not a factor, there are still other variables that come in place.

Lacye - posted on 11/12/2010

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The newer model cars my have the different glass but the older model cars do not. And even if flying glass isn't a factor, if my child is in the front seat, and a huge SUV hits that side of the car (I drive a Taurus) it doesn't matter the age of the person sitting in that seat, they are going to have some serious damage to them. And if it's a small child, a huge SUV hitting them will kill them. That is why the law is, or at least in the state I live in, that you have your child in the backseat, in the middle. The have ran so many experiments on this subject and from what I understand most, if not all, have shown that it is dangerous to put them in the front seat. As for the dashboard, to me that is part of the danger. What if a person hit a tree and the dashboard caved in and the child is stuck and can't get out. The dashboard can crush a child to death.

Sharon - posted on 11/12/2010

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I still find it hard to believe that a door side seat is safer than the rear center position?

Where are the stats supporting this position?

[deleted account]

Ive always put the youngest in the front seat where i can see him if im driving but my car doesnt have a passenger airbag so thats never been a problem for me.

[deleted account]

Oh, sorry - I misunderstood you and I was confused by your original statement. It happens more often than I'd like to admit! ;)

Dana - posted on 11/12/2010

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Dana, this is the first I've ever heard of the front seat being safer. If you look to my first post, I said it makes sense, no where am I saying that everyone should move their kids to the front seat, for one, it's illegal here in the US. I'm simply arguing the excuses that people are giving for saying the back seat is safer.

It's definitely something I'm going to keep looking into and if is deemed safer and the laws in the US change then you're damn straight I'd ask someone to sit in the back so my child is safer.

Sharon - posted on 11/12/2010

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In a small common sedan versus american SUVs - I'm thinking its a death trap for a child.

If my truck t-bones your sedan who ever is on the side seat is going to die. My bumper will be at chest or head height.

The least reinforced area is the window/upper portions.

head on collision... my truck will probably ride right up on top of your hood and over the reinforced dashboard with the wheels collapsing through the windshield and landing in the front seats.

I've seen my airbag sensor fail to activate a few times. But I could tell why AND it failed to activate, NOT turned on at inappropriate times. If you don't sit squarely over the weight sensor - it can't read your weight properly and won't activate.

I have 3 rows of seats. My youngest sits in the middle in a booster seat. She is 8 yrs old, tall and lanky for her age but very thin and even though she is tall for her age - the seatbelts cut across her throat, same for my 11 yr old. But he is heavier so he sits in a door passenger seat. My 15 yr old is taller than me and nearly the same weight - he allowed to sit up front.

BUT!!!! Except in the case of an accident with a large SUV - I think the frontseat with a sensor is fine for head on collisions and an infant. I still wonder about high speed side impact though.

Leah - posted on 11/12/2010

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Hmmm, that's interesting. But as it is the law right now in Canada to have children in the back seat up until the age of 10 (? correct me if I'm wrong), doesn't change much for me. And, really, if it really is a fatal car accident, I don't really think it matters if the child is in the front or back (I'm thinking of a T bone situation or roll over).

[deleted account]

I'm also curious, if you're going to argue that the front seat is safer then why is your son not in the front seat?

[deleted account]

I hear what you're saying, Dana, and I'm not totally discounting the idea, but for us, the front seat just isn't practical. More often than not I have other passengers with me and would you suggest that I make them sit in the back? Seriously wondering...

Lacye - posted on 11/12/2010

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i'm sorry but i disagree! you still can't trust keys and switches to deactivate the airbags because what if they are malfunctioning? Plus what if the child is in the front seat and that side of the car gets hit? not only will the child get most of the impact, glass will be flying everywhere and will cut the child. no. the safest place in the car for a child in a car seat is in the back and in the middle. which is where Lily is going to be for a long while!

Dana - posted on 11/12/2010

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I think it's makes sense. I've always thought it was safer in the front seat for children if there is no air bag.
As far as their being more leg room in the front seat for a child that is still rear facing, I don't understand that, it doesn't even make sense.
I still have my son, who is 28 months, rear facing but, in the back seat. We have a small car, VW Jetta, and having him in the back, RFing, doesn't make the front seat obsolete.
It's still a great article but, I feel like it gives a slant.

[deleted account]

The reasons they gave haven't swayed me. Roxanne will remain in the backseat rear facing for now.

[deleted account]

I'm on the fence. My air bag does have a key to turn it off, it has a sensor too, but I have seen the sensor malfunction twice while I was sitting in the seat (it has a light that comes on when it turns the airbag off).

As for the leg room issue, I have seen cars in which the front seat has to be pushed so much forward to accommodate the car seat behind it, that the front seat becomes unusable. The front seat is built with more space between the seat and dashboard than there is between the back seat and the seat in front of it, so putting the carseat up front still allows the front seat to be pushed forward creating a little leg room in the back seat. Does that make sense? You are cramped either way, but since the car seat usually requires more room in front of the seat than a person sitting in the seat, it makes sense to put it up front where there is more room.

All that said, I do not believe the front seat is any SAFER than the back, but it may be just as safe, and practical if you have a very small car or multiple kids--it is safer to put older kids wearing seat belts in the back seat, and the rear facing carseat in the front seat.

Tracey - posted on 11/12/2010

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Didn't know you could get air bags deactivated, never heard of keys or switches to turn it on or off, my kids were always quite happy in the back.
I would also question leg room in the back sets, as Eliz said all cars I know have much more room in the front.

Eliz - posted on 11/12/2010

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I don't agree. If in a head on collision you have an enormous amount of glass flying at your child. In the rear the front seats protect from flying glass. also there is NOT more leg room in the backseat for adults than the front seat. Don't know what kind of car you're driving but its much more cramped for adults in the back seat of every car I've ever been in. Also there shouldn't be any problem ensuring your child is properly buckled in whether they are in the front or back seat. Just buckle them in and do it right. If your children are old enough to buckle themselves, teach them car safety. They should not be allowed to unbuckle themselves until an adult tells them to. And also double check their buckling before you start your car. More and more vehicle manufacturers are adding collision saftey items to the rear seats. Plus can you really rely on the airbag deactivator? So many of those malfunction and the airbag goes off anyways. It's so much safer for children in the rear. Thats my opinion.

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