Are car seats in front seat safe?

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:-)

Enjoy your weekend!

15 thoughts on “Are car seats in front seat safe?

  1. Deborah Stewart says:

    Very interesting and useful article. We in the US are trying to get families to keep kids rear-facing longer, meaning bigger child restraints are needed.
    The back seat often does not have enough space. We would, of course, like to have the benefit of the type of RF installation features that Sweden allows (extra tie-down straps etc.).

    We have a long way to go to approach Sweden’s record of zero child fatalities, but we are working on it… albeit slowly.

  2. VW says:

    Thanks for this post. I live in NZ, and just went on a road trip with my 15 mo old daughter and a friend with her daughter of the same age. They’re both RFing in Brio Zentos and instead of having both babies in the back row, I moved my daughter’s seat to the front passenger seat and my friend and her baby sat in the back.

    I think it really helped keeping everyone happy on this journey -each baby could easily see their mother, and my friend in the backseat was able to entertain both babies easily. I found myself liking my daughter sitting next to me so much that I kept her seat in the front after we returned. I often get funny looks from drivers when I pull up next to them and they see my daughter in the front, but I know she’s way safer than their kids probably are, FFing at an incredible young age (several people I know turned their children FFing before 9 months!).

  3. admin says:

    VW: Nice to hear things worked well on your trip. Front seat is an excellent place for a child as long as airbag is deactivated. This is especially true when children are younger and more dependent on mommy/daddy.

    Most parents are not aware of front seat being so safe but then again most also believe it’s a good idea to turn children forward facing at 12 months….;-)


  4. VW says:

    Håkan, I’ve got a question for you: now that it’s becoming springtime here in NZ, there’s a lot more sun and I’m worried about my daughter’s head being in the sun through the windshield when she’s in the front passenger seat. Would you recommend driving with the seat shade you have in your store installed on a RFing seat in the front seat? Or would it be too bulky and obstruct the view out the side? My daughter is terrible at keeping a hat on her head! Thanks!

    PS: Our car doesn’t have an air bag at all, so good for her and probably bad for us 😉

  5. carolyn says:

    it si s much safer for children in car seats or booters….i do agree with the swedish that for our kids to be more safer is sitting backward…i love my children and i would do anything to keep them safe….

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  9. lilkunta says:

    Car seats have only been around for 50years next year, so how could or how have the Swedish been advanced in comparison to US safety standards for 30years? The car seat was invented in 1962 by US Leonard Rinkin.
    Please give a research for this,. Please post links /evidence that the front seat is safer.
    Quote: "Research has shown ages ago that front seat is an excellent place  for a child.   "
    What research was it? By who? Link please?
    When  did Volvo say front seat is just as safe as rear seat?

  10. admin says:

    lilkunta:  The safety of front seat with deactivated airbag  is not discussed or disputed among those who work seriously with car seats.  The great safety was indeed proven long ago.  Not only have research proven this, we have real life experiences from the Swedes to rely on.  We started using rear facing car seats in 1965.  It may be difficult to understand this but it's a fact not an opinion.  You will find some sources here,

    All Swedish car seats have clear instructions for installation in front seat.  Manufacturers such as Britax, BeSafe, Akta/Graco, and Maxi Cosi all recommend front seat for rear facing seats (airbag must always be deactivated).  Volvo and other manufacturers consider front seat a great place for a child which is why tether anchors and Isofix fittings are found in the front seat. 

    Cars are built to withstand collisions primarily from the front since 70-75% of all collisions are frontal collisions.  We also know there will always be a person traveling in the front seat in an accident.  This is why protection up front is such a priority and the car is strongest in this area. Please take a look at a frontal collision at only 30 mph and a side collision at the same speed. The impact fromt the side will destroy the car while the frontal collision will be handled far better




  11. lilkunta says:

    You giving this - another page on YOUR website as proof means nothing. Give ASWEDISH GOVERNMENT source or a SWEDISH AUTOMOBILE  source or SWEDISH PEDIATRICIAN BOARD/SOCIETY source.
    Did the Swedish equivalent of the US NHTSA* say front seat is okay? If give a link.
    Did the Swedish equivalent of the AAP*say front seat is okay? If so give a link.
    PROOF is all I am asking for.
    National Highway Transportation Safetey Administration
    American Academy Pediatricians 

  12. admin says:

    lilkunta:  Again, the front seat is an excellent place for a child as long as airbag is deactivated. When looking at all the factors rear facing in front seat is even safer than the rear seat.  People working seriously with car seats know this.  It's not an opinion, it's a fact. It has been proven over and over again by research and real life experience.

    Again, car seat safety in US is very far behind Sweden.  There is also no experience with rear facing in front seat in US since airbag unfortunately can't be deactivated. There is also little experience with rear facing in general. It's very simple, if airbag is active the front seat is a bad place for a child.  If airbag is deactivated it's a very good place for a child

    It's troubling you believe  the Swedes, who have been world leaders in car seat safety since 1965, would place children in the front seat if it wasn't safe.  The Swedish car seats have clear instructions for installation in  the front seat, car seat manufacturers recommend the front seat, car manufacturers recommend the front seat, car manufacturers place tether anchors in front seat and car manufacturers have pre-installed Isofix in the front seat (LATCH in US).  Despite this evidence you seem to have trouble understanding that front seat is an excellent place for a child.  

    Sweden have a safety record for children other countries can only dream of.  We have been keeping children rear facing since 1965 and learned lot during the past 45 years.  We have from the very beginning used front seat for children and continue to do so extensively today.  A large percentage of parents keep infant, toddlers and older children in the front sat with deactivated airbag. It's practical for space and extremely safe.

    You have already been provided with links, sources, quotes and explanations in a separate email.  That was apparently not enough. Below you will find further links and facts.  They include links and quotes from Trafikverket – The Swedish NHTSA, NTF – The Swedish association for traffic safety, Volvo – World leader in car and car seat safety for the past 50 years, Folksam – A large insurance company doing much of work for car seat safety, BeSafe – Large maker of car seats  The quotes have even been translated for you.  A link has also been provided to Volvos's car seat selector.  There you can select a car seat (infant, toddler or booster) and recommended places will be shown.  Front seat is recommended for all seats and considered a "perfect" position

    The fantastic safety of front seat for children is a fact, not an opinion. There are a large number of sources showing this.  A few sources are listed below:

    Trafikverket – Swedish NHTSA (  Please see question #10 "Ska barn sitta i framsätet eller baksätet?"


    "Should children sit in the front or rear seat?"

    "The rear seat is in general safer – if we only look at the risks in a collision.  But this does not apply to children in rear facing seats.  As long as airbag is deactivated there is no difference in crash safety between front and rear seat.  One must of course weigh a younger child's need for more attention. If there is only one adult in the car it may be better to have the child in the front seat"

    NTF – The Swedish association for traffic safety ( and  Please see #1 "När får barn sitta framåtvända i framsätet?" (bottom paragraph), #6 "Barn i framsätet"


    " When are children allowed to sit forward facing in front seat?"

    "In cars without airbag there are several positive aspects with placement of child in front seat.  There is more room in the front seat which lead to a child riding rear facing longer. A parent can see the child better and in an easy way have eye contact – an important social aspect"

    Please note quote below is for a forward facing child.  Front seat is also a great place for a forward facing child

    "Children in front seat?"

    " The difference between safety in front and back seat is almost impossible to answer.  It depends on type of accident.  As long as your child is sitting on a booster cushion and airbag is deactivated there are no special recommendations regarding front seat."

    "Children 0-4 years – rear facing car seat"

    "When a child can sit unassisted it's time for a rear facing car seat.  It's installed with tether straps and seat belt, rear facing in front or rear seat.  If driver is  the only adult in the car it's usually safer to keep the child in the front seat.  If airbag hasn't been deactivated a child must ride in the rear seat."

    Folksam ( See #4 "Var är det bäst att barnet sitter?"


    "Where is the best place for a child?"

    "If airbag is deactivated there are from a crash perspective more benefits with having a child in the front seat.  Crash test show a slightly lower risk of injury in a frontal collision if  the child is sitting in a rear facing car seat leaning against dashboard compared to car seat in  the back seat leaning against front seat.  In a side collision child is more protected in middle rear than in  the front seat. Collisions from the side are far more uncommon than frontal collisions.  There are therefore several more benefits with having the child in the front seat:

    • Front seat provide more leg room compared to back seat.  The larger leg space means a child can ride rear facing at least a year longer  than in the rear seat

    • The driver is disturbed less.  Research from USA point towards a higher risk of accident when infants or children are placed in the rear seat.  In one such comparison a driver was distracted four times more often by children in the back seat compared to an adult passenger.  And almost eight times more distracted by an infant.

    • The social contact between child and driver which has an impact when  when one is driving alone with the child."

    Volvo ( "Vanliga frågor och Svar"


    "Infant: Which is the best placement for an infant car seat? In a Volvo all passenger seats are equally safe but there will likely be other factors influencing your choice of position. Many prefer to have their child within reach, for example in the front passenger seat.  If the front passenger seat has an active airbag a child must sit in the rear"

    "Rear facing:  Same fact as above"

    "Forward facing: Same fact as above"

    Volvo (  "Placera barnen"


    "Placement of children in the car"  Please select a car seat and all safe positions will be shown.  Drag and drop a car seat in the front seat and the following text will appear: "Perfect! But if the front passenger seat has an active airbag a car seat is not allowed"

    BeSafe ( "Svenska rekommendationer för små barn i bil!


    "Swedish recommendations for small children in cars!"

    "Small children are safest in rear facing car seats.  Our recommendation is for children to sit rear facing until at least 4 years of age or longer if possible.  Placement of a car seat in front seat or rear seat is equal form a crash perspective.  The front seat allow more legroom which means a child can remain rear facing to an older age.  We should therefore as much as possible help parents in their demand for accessibility for both passengers in the front and rear seat.



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