It is unreal how quickly our children grow before our very eyes. One moment, they're little babies in car seats as you run errands, and the next, they're asking to sit in the front seat. It's a sudden transition that can take you by surprise. However, allowing them to sit in the front seat is not a decision to take lightly. You must ensure that your child is of the proper age and meets the other necessary requirements before you let them move up to the front seat.
Key Points of Child Car Safety by Age
- Children should not sit in the front seat until they are at least 13 years old.
- Children need to sit in a rear-facing car seat until they turn between 2 and 4 years of age.
- Children should remain in a forward-facing seat until they are 5 years old or they pass the weight or height restrictions of that particular chair.
- Children can then move to a booster seat until they are tall enough to wear a seat belt properly, which is typically when they are about 12 years old.
How Old Does a Child Need to Be to Sit in the Front Seat?
When it comes to riding in the car, your children will need to go through certain stages and abide by certain guidelines. Among them is the requirement by law that they must sit in a car seat until age 5 and then a booster seat until they reach a certain height and weight. Then, they can sit in the front seat. According to facts listed by the CDC, no child should sit in the front seat until they are at least 13 years of age.
With that said, every child is different. Kids will grow at different rates, and they will all reach the requirements for front-seat rides at their own pace. So, read and stick closely to the guidelines below to ensure the safety of your child.
The Path Leading Up to the Front Seat
Before your child can sit in the front seat, they need to grow up until they become a teenager at 13. The reason your child can’t sit in the front before then is that their bodies are still forming, and the front seat does not provide the padding and security that their young bodies require. As your child grows and reaches their teenage years, they will also gain the necessary cognitive abilities and maturity to better understand and handle the responsibilities of sitting in the front seat. Let’s look at a rundown of how your child will evolve when it comes to riding in the car.
From Birth Until Age 4
In order to stay protected, your child must sit in a backward-facing car seat from the time they are born until they turn between 2 and 4 years of age. The reason for the flexible answer is that you are also waiting until your toddler reaches a certain weight. Each seat may have different requirements, but in general, your child should be about 50 pounds before they should move on from a rear-facing seat. There are many reasons for these requirements, and they come down to keeping your kids safe in the event of a crash.
The main reason is that if you're driving and get in an accident, the rear-facing seat will help to absorb most of the crash forces so they won’t injure their neck, head, and spine. Also, the rear-facing seat helps to keep your young child’s spine strong as it will still be developing until 6 years of age.
Moving from the Rear-Facing to Forward-Facing Seat
After your child outgrows the weight restrictions on the rear-facing seat, you can then purchase a new forward-facing seat. At this point, your child will grow to a point where they won’t be at risk of the same neck issues that existed during their younger years. They should remain in that forward-facing seat until they are 5 years old or they pass the weight or height restrictions of that particular chair.
Transitioning to a Booster Seat
At this point, you can let your child sit in a booster seat, which should still be in the back seat.
They will be taller at this point, so the booster seat will elevate them to the point that they can properly wear a seatbelt. In order for a seatbelt to be effective, the lap belt must be across the upper thighs and not the stomach. Also, the shoulder belt should be across the center of the shoulder and chest and not be in front of their neck or face or off of the shoulder.
And this is the whole point. The answer to the question of when your child can sit in the front seat is when they are tall enough to do so with the seat belt in this proper alignment. That is typically when they are about 12 years old. That is why the CDC says that most kids will be 13 when they can ride in the front.
Keep in mind that every vehicle is unique, and the seat height and seat belt will fit differently in each car, so sometimes your child may need a booster seat to sit right, and sometimes they can just sit in the chair normally like their parents.
Why the Seat Belt is So Important
Since we now know that in order for a child to safely sit in the front seat, they must be able to wear a seat belt properly, it is important to realize why seat belts are just that important.
Once your child is able to wear their seat belt properly, you must ensure that they wear it on every single trip, no matter how far away you happen to be traveling. If you are going to the neighbor’s house down the street, then your child should be wearing a seat belt. If you don’t believe us, then just look at the statistics:
- In 2020 alone, 607 children under 12 years old were killed in motor vehicle crashes.
- 63,000 kids were injured.
- Of all of the children that were killed, 38% of them were not wearing seat belts.
How the Seat Belt Protects Us
So yes, a seat belt is essential. With that said, it is not 100% effective. However, the belt reduces the risk for children by 71-82%, and those are odds that parents should like to see.
When you and your child properly wear your seat belt, you are secured in place, so if you do get into a crash, your child is less likely to be thrown around the car, which can lead to additional injuries. It also protects your kid from hitting their head on the seat in front of them, which can lead to serious neck pain.
Most cars have 3-point seat belts. That triangular formation spreads the force across the body in the case of a vehicle impact, so your child is not hurt more in one part of their body than somewhere else.
Other Considerations Before Sitting in the Front Seat
Keep in mind that the ability to properly wear a seat belt may only be one of the rules that you will need to follow before your child can sit in the front seat. It's also worth considering the level of maturity and responsibility your child displays before allowing them to sit in the front seat. While age and size restrictions provide a general guideline, some children may not be ready to handle the responsibility of sitting in the front seat until they are older. Here are other considerations to be aware of:
Specific State Laws
Even if the seat belt fits properly, you also need to research state laws, as each state can have its own rules. For instance, in Texas, your child must also be over 4 feet 9 inches in order to sit in the front seat. In Maine, your child must be at least 12 years old or weigh at least 100 pounds. It's important to note that state laws can change, so be sure to regularly check for updates and follow the most current guidelines to ensure your child's safety.
Remember the Airbags
If you are driving and you get into an accident, then the airbags can deploy and keep you in place and prevent injury. The problem with children is that if they are under a certain height, then the airbags will not help them. Airbags will typically only help if your child is at least 5 feet tall and 150 pounds, so think about that before putting your kids in the front seat. Keep in mind that even if your child meets the proper height and weight requirements, it's still safer for them to sit in the back seat until they are at least 13 years old.
Make Sure They Sit Properly
Due to safety issues, it is best to keep your kids in the back seat for as long as possible. However, if your child must sit in the front, make sure that they sit properly so they can avoid injury. Their seatbelt should be properly fastened, and your child must sit facing forward while sitting up straight. Don’t let them play with their seat belt or they risk detaching it when they need it most.
In the end, before you allow your child to sit in the front seat, ensure that you are following the guidelines of your state and the CDC. With that said, although there are many different stipulations and guidelines, it is wise to keep your children secured in the back seat for as long as possible. It really is the safest place for them, and you will be glad to get your family from point A to point B without issue.
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