When can children sit in the front seat of the car?
Age 13. Bam. Done!
It is safest and best practice for children to wait to sit in the front seat until they are age 13.
I say most likely your car manufacturer because I haven’t personally checked the passenger visors in every car to see if they ALL have the one of the warning labels shown above.
Obviously not everyone follows this recommendation
We notice a lot of children who are obviously not 13 sitting in the front seat. This is especially noticable during school drop off and pick up.
When the child is so short you can just see the top of his head in the front seat, not only should he still be in the back seat but also in a seat belt positioner.
We get it. It’s hard. Even though our 11-year-old has been told he’ll need to wait until 13, he still asks to sit up front. And I know some of his friend’s parents allow him to. Why not, they allow their children to.
Many Most of his friends are allowed to.
9 out of 10 parents allow their children to use the vehicle seat belt before they can properly pass the 5-step test so it’s no surprise that they’ll also allow their children to sit in the front seat prior to the recommended age of 13.
And while some states do have laws which require children to sit in the back seat most do not and of those that do many only go up to age 8.
Which states have laws about when can children sit in the front seat?
California, Georgia, Hawaii, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Tennessee laws require children to be in the rear seat properly restrained until age 8.
Delaware law doesn’t allow children to sit in the front seat until they are 12 years old or 65″ tall.
Maine law doesn’t allow children to sit in the front seat until the child is age 12 or 100 pounds.
Washington law doesn’t allow children to sit in the front seat of the car until age 13.
Puerto Rico law requires children to remain in the back seat of the car until age 12.
Once again occupant restraint laws are commonly the minimum standard to follow as they are typically a compromise between “best practice” and what lawmakers think their constituents will tolerate.
Why is it important to follow the recommendation?
We often hear, “but I sat up front and I’m fine.” That’s true. Most of us adults did sit in the front seat. Many of us adults sat in all kinds of places that would be considered compromising our safety these days. For instance because of lack of seating, I often was squished into the hatchback of my mom’s RX-7 while my brother only 2 years older was in the front seat. And Greg often shared the cargo space of their station wagon with one of his 8 siblings.
A lot of things have changed since then such as the number of cars on the road and the speed at which they travel. Most importantly what has changed is our knowledge of crash dynamcis and occupant safety.
Two main reasons
Location, location, location. The back seat is the safest place for your children — actually safer for everyone regardless of age, height or weight — because most crashes occur in the front of the car and the back seat is farthest from this impact.
Air bags are designed for a 140-pound man wearing a seat belt. They are not designed for children who are much lighter and smaller. As such airbags can cause serious injury to children below the height requirement by hitting them in the face, chest, neck or head at speeds of between 90 to 210 miles per hour.
Nationwide, more than a hundred children have been killed by air bags in recent years, and many of these deaths were in slow-speed collisions that should have been minor.
Are there any exceptions to the rule?
Generally speaking it’s allowed to have a child sit in the front seat if all the rear seats are occupied by other children. For example, and much to my dismay, Grandma’s car only has two seat belts in the back seat so my 11-year-old gets to set up front when she drives all 3 of our children. He of course is super happy about this. Luckily he 5-stepped some time ago and is mere inches from my height.
Other exceptions may be if your car has not back seat or if your back seat has lap belts only and no shoulder restraints and your child rides in a booster, he’s safer in the front seat than in the back.
If you do end up with a child in the front seat, turn the airbag off or take it to the dealership to have them disable it. Some vehicles have “smart” airbags which can detect the weight in the front seat and automatically turn off if the weight is low enough to not trigger it.
In the end, you are the parent and you can make the choice to tell your child safety trumps their being “cool”.
We want to know, at what age did you or do you plan to let your children sit in the front seat? Share your comments below.
By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004
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