When Is It Safe for Kids to Ride in the Front Seat?
When it comes to how old a child must be before she can ride in the front seat of a car, state laws vary. In the case of safety, sometimes the lines between laws and recommendations are inconsistent. For instance, Georgia law mandates that all children sit in the backseat until the age of 8 , while Maryland law imposes no restrictions on the age of a front seat passenger. If you are a parent with questions about passenger laws in your state, check with your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. In regards to your child’s safety, go with your gut.
Determining the safest age for your child to ride in the front seat of a car begins with learning the facts. Sadly, car crashes are the leading cause of death for American kids over the age of 2. According to the Maryland Department of Transportation, 1,045 kids under the age of 13 died in car crashes in the U.S. in 2008. Approximately 700 of the dead were children riding in passenger vehicles. Awareness about the dangers of children riding as front seat passengers and the implementation of stricter child restraint laws has resulted in fewer deaths over the years.
Front seat air bags that come out of the dashboard on impact can injure or kill a child in the front seat. These air bags deploy at a speed of 200 miles per hour -- a speed that can severely injure a little one sitting too close. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if a child is under the age of 13, he should not ride in the front seat -- whether it has an air bag or not. Baltimore County, Maryland, takes this recommendation one step further by adding that ideally, a child should be at least 5 feet tall with a minimum weight of 100 pounds to sit in the front seat.
Although the backseat is the safest place for a child, sometimes there is no other choice but to allow your child to sit in the front. According New Jersey state law, if your vehicle has no rear seat and your child is under the age of 8 and less than 80 pounds, he can lawfully sit in the front seat with a booster. If he is over 80 pounds, a seat belt is all the law requires for a front seat passenger.
Encouraging the Backseat
Even if your child protests, encourage her to sit in the rear of your car until she reaches the age of 13. Remind her that your choice not to allow her to sit in the front seat of your vehicle is for her own safety. The New York State Department of Health recommends allowing your child to make the space in the backseat of your car all her own. Small storage spaces in the back of the car that are reserved for her favorite toys or video games may draw her to the backseat instead of the front. You may also be able to encourage her by striking a deal about playing her favorite tunes on the radio.
- Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety: Child Passenger Safety FAQ
- The Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma: Air Bag Safety
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Child Passenger Safety
- Baltimore County Maryland: Child Passenger Safety
- The State of New Jersey: New Jersey Driver Manual
- New York State Department of Health: Child Passenger Safety, Children Ages 10 to 14 Years
- Noel Hendrickson/Digital Vision/Getty Images