Is it safe to put a front-facing car seat at the front passenger seat? Do I have to disable the airbag first?
The AA says:
Extreme hazard warning
You must not use a rear-facing child seat on a passenger seat where an active passenger airbag is fitted. The child's head will be too close to the airbag and severe injury or death could result if the bag is triggered.
For forward facing child restraints it is acceptable to leave the airbag active and move the car's seat back on its runners as far as it will go. Do check the car handbook for model specific advice though as airbag size and performance does vary.
This was news to me; I had thought it was necessary to disable the airbag even for front-facing child seats.
As it says, check the manual for the car to be sure for your particular model.
Also re 'pushing the seat right back', check the child seat manual to ensure the child seat is still safe in the way it interfaces with the seatbelt when it's in a front seat pushed right back - it might not be.
As Joe's answer says, it's a whole lot safer just to keep them in the rear seats of the vehicle.
First off, this is not medical or legal advice, and no answer from a site like this should be relied upon; ask your pediatrician for the best advice.
It is never safer for a child to sit in the front seat. (Similarly, it is never safer for an adult; the rear seat is simply safer in general.) The recommendations of child safety organizations are generally they should be in the back at least until 13, if not longer (see this page for example).
However, if your child must ride in the front seat, disabling the passenger airbags is certainly a must. You may be able to switch them off, and if not your car dealer or mechanic may be able to install a switch to turn them off.
Some additional information, from the American Academy of Pediatrics, who published updated recommendations for car safety for children:
- Studies showed a 40% to 70% reduction in fatalities from children under 13 riding in the rear seat. Over 13 it didn't seem to make much difference.
- Even of side collisions, the rear seat still provided a 62% reduction in serious injuries compared to the front seat.
There are a number of studies mentioned in the article, some fairly recent, backing those numbers.
Yes it should be safe, and no, you don't have to disable the airbag in most countries, although you'd have to check the laws in the country where you live.
According to this official Dutch source (in Dutch), children under 18 and smaller than 1,35m. have to use an appropriate car seat. Rear-facing car seats are only allowed on seats (front or rear) without an active airbag (so it should either be deactivated or absent altogether), but front-facing car seats have no such restrictions. This applies more or less to the entire EU, although some countries use different height or age restrictions, as evidenced by this official UK source, that puts the age limit at 14.
As I expect these laws to be based on safety, I assume it's safe enough to use a front-facing car seat in the front seat.