When should you disable the front passenger airbag, and how do you do it?

Learn how to disable the front passenger airbag

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Road Safety

The airbag is one of the most important safety features in a vehicle. It acts in conjunction with the seat belt and should never be activated separately as this could cause serious injury to the occupant. In the case of children, you should bear in mind that they should always travel in the back seats. However, if for any reason they are obliged to travel in the front passenger seat in their child restraint system, it is important that you disable the airbag. We have previously discussed how dangerous an airbag can be for children and why and when it should be disabled. The fact is that the passenger airbag is particularly dangerous for children, especially when they are in a rear-facing seat (390 KB). Article 117 of the General Traffic Law in Spain states that in vehicles with up to nine seats, including the driver’s seat, children who are equal to or smaller than 1.35 cm in height must travel in the back seats using an approved child restraint system suited to their height and weight. They can only travel in the front passenger seat in three exceptional circumstances: when the vehicle does not have any back seats; when all the back seats are already occupied by other children in their child restraint systems; or when it is impossible to install a child restraint system in those seats. If, for any of the reasons mentioned above, a child has to travel in the front passenger seat and the car is equipped with a passenger airbag, the Regulation also states that “rear-facing child restraint systems may only be used if the airbag has been disabled”. It is also advisable to avoid, as far as possible, that children under the age of 12 travel in the front passenger seat with the airbag activated (even if one of the three exceptions mentioned above occur). The main purpose of the airbag is to protect the passenger’s head from striking the windscreen. It emerges at a speed of 200 km/h and can be particularly dangerous when the passenger in the front seat is a child. It can crush a child against the seat or even completely smother him or her. You should bear in mind that if the child is in a child restraint system, it is even closer to the airbag and the explosion occurs nearer the child’s head. Furthermore, if the seat is a rear-facing one, the child’s head is even closer to the windscreen.

How do you disable the airbag on the passenger side?

Bear in mind that not every model by every manufacturer has the same system or the same steps to disable the passenger airbag. Consequently it is essential to read the manufacturer’s manual which will give you all the steps that need to be taken. In addition, not every vehicle offers the option of disabling the passenger airbag, especially older models. Almost every new car offers this option as manufacturers are very aware of the importance of disabling the airbag if a child in a rear-facing CRS is traveling in the front passenger seat. The usual case is to disable the airbag with the ignition off. This avoids any possible malfunctions. Many vehicles offer the option of disabling both the front and side airbags of the front passenger seat. This usually takes the form of a switch that is found on the right-hand side of the windscreen or inside the glove compartment and has the following positions: on (to activate the airbag so it can be deployed in the event of an accident) and off (to disable it when there are children traveling in the front seat, especially if they are facing backwards). Normally you need a special key which is inserted into the corresponding slot to disable it. There is usually a confirmation that the airbag is disabled with the illumination of one of the control lights in the dashboard. In some vehicles it is only possible to disable the passenger airbag by taking the car to a garage. In these cases, you will normally be asked to sign a document exonerating the manufacturer from any liability in the event of an accident. Other manufacturers, such as Mercedes, have an automatic airbag disabling system. This disables the airbag if it identifies that a child restraint system has been fitted in the front passenger seat. This device was developed in conjunction with the child restraint system manufacturer Römer and is known as Automatic Child Seat Recognition (ACSR). However, it only works with child seats manufactured by Römer and is sold exclusively through Mercedes dealers.

Advice worth following

  • Avoid, as far as possible, letting children travel in a child restraint system in the front passenger seat (this is a legal requirement and there are only three exceptions). If, for one of the authorized exceptions, the child has to travel in the front (for example, if all the back seats are occupied with children in child seats), we recommend that only children aged over 12 use this seat, with all the younger children in the back. In this case, you should put the passenger seat as far back as possible to put the greatest distance between the child and the airbag.
  • Never put a rear-facing child seat in the front passenger seat without having previously disabled the airbag.
  • Remember to re-activate the passenger seat airbag whenever the seat is going to be occupied by an adult passenger.
  • Children over 1.35 m in height can travel in the front passenger seat, but always ensuring that the seat belt is firmly fastened and with the seat pushed back as far as possible.
  • Children should not be allowed to lean forward and must remain in an upright position with their backs firmly against the seat back.
  • The driver of the vehicle is responsible for ensuring that the airbag is disabled or activated, as appropriate.
  • You should never leave the key in the airbag disable slot as this could damage it, and you should never try to activate or disable the airbag while driving.