When Can a Child Sit in the Front Seat?

The safest spot for anyone in a vehicle is the middle of the back seat. Children, regardless of age, should especially ride in the back seat for as long as possible. Many states have laws for when a child can ride in the front seat, based on height, weight or age so it is important to check the law in your state.

Front Seat Requirements

States that use height as a requirement usually state 4 feet 9 inches as the minimum height to sit in the front seat. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent, no child under the age of 13 should sit in the front seat.

The Dangers of Riding in the Front Seat

When a child rides in the back seat rather than the front, his risk of injury in an accident reduces by a third. In a head-on crash, which is the most common and deadliest type of collision, a child riding in the front seat can be thrown into the vehicle’s dashboard or even through the windshield. There’s also a greater risk of being hurt by objects thrown into the car if he’s sitting in the front rather than the back.

In addition, air bags, designed to protect front seat passengers, can cause severe injuries to children if they inflate. According to the Auto Safety Expert website, if a child is below the height requirement, the inflating airbag can hit him in the face, chest, head, or neck at speeds of 90 – 210 miles per hour. More than a hundred children have been killed by air bags in recent years nationwide. Many of those deaths were actually in slow-speed collisions that should have been minor. Air bags pose a huge risk to infants and toddlers in rear-facing car seats because the back of their car seat is very close to the car dashboard.

Car Seat Safety

It is typically safer for a child of any age to ride in the back seat of any car. However, if your back seat only has lap belts and no shoulder restraints and your child uses a booster seat, he is actually safer in the front seat than in the back seat. If you have to transport multiple children, the youngest child should ride in the back seat.

In spite of all the dangers, if you have to let your child under the age of 13 ride in the front seat, make sure he uses both the shoulder and lap belts. The lap belt needs to fit low across his pelvis and the shoulder belt should not cut across his neck. The shoulder belt should never be behind his back. Move the seat back away from the car dashboard as far as possible. Also, disable the front seat passenger side’s airbag. If your car does not have a switch to turn off the airbag, you can get one installed.