Why is it best practice to keep kids in the back seat until age 13?
Culturally, we have this idea of kids graduating to the next level. That starts during the car seat stages; starting at rear facing and graduating to forward facing, etc.
Going from rear facing to forward facing is a huge decrease in the safety for the child. Research shows children are 5 times safer being rear facing than forward facing because when children are rear facing their whole back, neck and head are being supported by the seat. Once they are turned forward facing their bodies are being restrained by a harness and their neck and head are unrestrained and unsupported.
The idea of “graduating” tends to carry through to parents wanting their children to ride in the front seat with them. (And most children want to as well since they feel like a big kid.)
The reality is that it is more dangerous for children to be up in the front seat.
Why is that?
Front impact crashes are the most common type of car crash. So if we’re talking about putting the odds in our favor, it makes since to keep kids in the back seat for as long as possible — a minimum of 13 years old.
Two important reasons to keep kids in the back seat:
- keeps the child further away from the most common type of impact, and
- keeps them away from the frontal airbag and the potential of being inside the airbag deployment zone.
If front air bags are meant to be an supplemental source of protection, how can they be dangerous?
Children might not have the awareness and maturity to sit properly in the front seat thus putting them inside the air bag deployment zone prior to a crash. Injuries don’t occur from an occupant coming into contact with a fully inflated airbag. The injuries come from being in the deployment zone as the airbag is coming out at rocket speed (200-400mph).
This is why we never put a rear-facing car seat in the front seat because by default it is inside the deployment zone of that airbag.
From a crash dynamic perspective, the further away you are from the point of impact, the less energy your body experiences. So having the child in the back seat keeps them further away from the point of impact in the most common type of crash.
Some other points to consider
What are they going to come in contact with? In the front seat we have the dash and the airbags. In the back seat we have the back of the front seats which typically are not hard plastic but rather fabric covered cushion.
Download our report: Common Car Seat Mistakes and How to Fix Them
There is massive amounts of energy that need to be managed during a car crash. That is what all of the systems in the car are intended to do; to distribute and lessen that energy that is being transferred to the human body.
Our human body structure is muscle around bones. The stronger and more dense those bones are the less likely they are to experience bone fractures which could lead to secondary injuries of severe bleeding and things of that nature.
So the older that our children get the more dense their bones become. We want to give our children the best chance by keeping them in the back seat until their bones are stronger and until they need to be up in the front to start learning how to drive.
That is why best practice recommendation is to keep kids in the back seat until at least 13 years of age. So they’ll just have to wait before they start calling “shut gun” with their siblings.
We want to know, when did you or do you plan to let your kids sit in the front seat? Share your comments below.
By Greg Durocher, CEO at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Technician Instructor since 2002
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