When can a child sit in the front seat?

When Can A Child Sit In The Front Seat?

All kids have a sense of adventure, and riding shotgun in the family car is one of them. But parents who give in to their child’s pleas to sit in the front seat too soon might be making a more dangerous mistake than simply possibly spoiling them.

According to the CDC, car crashes in 2016 resulted in 723 deaths and more than 128,000 injuries among children ages 12 years and below.  Parents can help save their children’s lives by knowing what age a child can sit in the front seat.

As a caregiver, you should also know the corresponding child front seat laws in your specific area as US states may have different guidelines. Below is everything you have to know if you’re thinking of letting your kid sit in the front seat.

Dangers of Children Sitting in the Front Seat

First, let’s admit it: some parents let their pre-teen kids sit beside them while driving.  If you’re one of them, no judgment, but you should know why kids ages 12 years and below shouldn’t ride shotgun just yet.

Kids’ bones are not strong enough

Children’s bodies are still developing at this age, particularly their bones and ligaments are just taking their time to get stronger. When a child ages 12 years or younger gets involved in a car accident, they are more vulnerable to severe injuries. The back seat is the safest place for them around that age.

Airbags can be fatal

Airbags are designed to launch on an adult passenger who is at least 5 feet tall and 150 pounds heavy.

Sitting in the front seat endangers smaller and lighter children because the impact of an airbag launch puts them at risk of head and upper body injuries. Their developing bones are not strong enough to endure an airbag that deploys at 200 MPH, making the crash more dangerous for them than an older child or an adult.

Frontal crashes are frequent

Most accidents also affect the front of the car, so putting a child in the front seat places them in greater danger than if they were in the back seat.

Even if a child is wearing a seat belt, dangerous objects and surfaces like the car’s dashboard are an extreme threat during a frontal crash.

The Right Age for a Child to Sit in the Front Seat

When the child and the parent are ready, there is a right age when children can sit in the front seat. For this, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a few recommendations:

  • Children under 13 should be sitting in the back seat and properly restrained by a car seat or a seat belt.
  • When children can properly fit a seat belt, parents should make sure they use both lap and shoulder belts for the best protection.

This means that children 13 years and older can sit in the front seat, provided that they are big enough for seat belt and airbag requirements.

Another important consideration is the law. Different states have different rules when it comes to the right age, height, or weight for a child who sits in the front seat, so it’s important to check the laws in your state before moving junior to the front.

Car Seat Laws by State

Child requirements for the front seat are linked to car seat and booster seat laws in each state. Here are some US states and their corresponding car seat laws.

Texas

Texas law requires children under age 8, unless they are 4’9” or taller, to be restrained in a suitable car seat or booster seat. When they turn 8, children can use the car’s seat belt if they are tall enough to fit in.

Unfortunately, Texan law does not specify what age a child is allowed in the front seat, but the Texas Department of Public Safety does recognize AAP’s recommendation to keep children 12 years old and younger buckled in in the back seat. They also advise that parents follow the age requirements of their child safety seat systems.

Michigan

Michigan law states that children ages 4 to 8 must sit in a car seat or booster seat.

A 4-year-old should ideally ride in a car seat in the back, but if all rear seats are full of similar-aged kids and there’s no available seat in the rear, they may take the front seat with the proper car seat installed.

New York

New York law specifies that children under 8 must sit in safety seats. They may use the seat belt when they reach 4'9" or 100 lbs and can properly fit in an adult seat belt.

As for the front seat, New York does not prohibit child passengers from riding in the front seat. However, it recognizes the danger of positioning a child close to an airbag and espouses the idea that young children should sit in the back. Children 16 years and younger must wear seat belts at all times whether they are sitting in the front or back seat.

California

California has a lower age requirement and allows a child 8 years and older to sit in the front seat. A child younger than 8 years may ride in the front seat in an appropriate child safety seat if and only if:

  • There is no back seat.
  • The back seats are rear-facing seats.
  • The back seats are jump seats facing the side.
  • The car seat cannot be properly installed in the back seat.
  • The child’s medical condition requires him to sit in front.
  • All the seats in the back are occupied by children younger than 8.

Ohio

Ohio also asks caregivers to use age-appropriate child-restraint systems. Children 13 years and older can legally take the front seat, but all kids under 16 must wear a seat belt at all times, both in the front seat and in the back.

Florida

Florida law says that children should stay in the back seat until they reach 12 years old. All front-seat passengers and all children under 18 must use seat belts. This is a primary enforcement law, and officers can issue citations to drivers who violate this safety requirement.

Conclusion

As you can see, many states have unique laws regarding child car safety. Following the minimum age requirement is not always the best choice to make, so parents and caregivers should always consider the recommendation from safety experts who say that the back seat is generally safer for children.

In the end, you should make the decision based on what you see as safest for your child.

Robert

Robert is a father of a young daughter and has developed an expertise in child car seat safety. He is a keen supporter of the use of child safety systems having seen his daughter come away from a side impact collision unscathed due to the use of a child car seat. When he's not spending time reviewing child safety systems he works as a Technical Manager on major construction projects.

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