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When Can Kids Ride in Front Seat of Car?

What You Need to Know Before Letting Your Child Ride in the Front Seat

Amy S.'s 6-year-old daughter, who rides in the back of the family car in a booster seat, recently started asking if she can sit up in the front of the car with Mom. Jessica B.'s son is also begging to ride in the front seat, especially when he sees his peers get out from the front seat of the car when he's dropped off at school. Diane B.'s 11-year-old pretends not to hear her requests to return to the back seat.

It's normal for kids to express an interest in riding in the front seat of the car in the years leading up to teen-hood. But with parents in online communities referring to the front seat of a car as a "suicide seat," "death trap," or "child killer," as a reader named Charlie P. reports, it's no wonder the first response of many moms is a resolute "no."

So when does it become reasonably safe to allow your child to ride up front?

1. "Not Until the Teen Years"

General reader wisdom says children should not ride in the front of the car until they are about 12 or 13 years old. As Kelly B. explains, "What people don't understand is the reasoning behind why kids shouldn't sit in the front seats. They just are not big enough [before 12 or 13]."


She goes on to break down why riding in the front seat isn't as safe as riding in the back seat. During a collision, a child in the front seat can be thrown into the dashboard or through the windshield:

"Even if he's properly buckled in, he's at much greater risk for being harmed by objects intruding into the car in the front than in the back. What's more, in cars with passenger air bags (which includes most newer models), the car's frontal air bags deploy with such force that they can cause severe head and neck injuries to a child," she shares.

Jeannett S. and Talisha B. agree that it's best to wait until the teen years to allow your child to move up front. That's most likely the time when your child will reach the height and weight needed to minimize injury from an exploding air bag in a crash. "Just like a roller coaster ride at an amusement park requires you to be 'At Least This Tall to Ride the Ride,' so should a child be to sit in the front seat," says Jeannett. And Talisha adds firmly, "Once a child outgrows a booster seat, he or she should continue riding in the back seat with a seat belt until around age 13."

Brandi C., a mom who works in medicine, confirms these rationales with an eyewitness account. As a medical worker, she reports, the hardest thing she ever saw was the aftermath of an accident involving a 7-year-old "who wanted to ride up front with daddy to the store" and who had indeed been riding in the front seat: "They were rear-ended, and because of the child's size, he slipped under the seatbelt and under the dash, [and] died instantly. Since then, I have always carried that with me, and have chosen that my son and stepkids will not sit in the front seat until they are teenagers."

Some passenger safety organizations, such as SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A., take concerns like Brandi's one step further and suggest children continue to ride in the back seat until they are ready to drive themselves.

2. When State Laws Say It's OK

Some states have specific child-restraint laws and laws that spell out the rules regarding children riding in the front seat, offers a member named Talisha. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has information about choosing the right seat for your child in the car.

The laws can be very specific about what age, height, and weight a child must be to sit in a front seat. For example, in Colorado, where Brandi C. lives, children have to be 5 feet tall and 11 years old before they can ride in the front seat, she reports. Because each state is different, moms need to familiarize themselves with their own state's requirements. A mom named Jennifer suggests asking a local police officer the appropriate age, height, and weight for safe front-seat riding.

3. When No Other Seats Are Available

State laws are typically accommodating, letting a child who normally would not be allowed to sit up front to sit next to the driver if there are not enough safe rear seats in the vehicle, such as in a pickup truck, Sherri C. says. She notes that she had to let her oldest start sitting up front at age 9, when she ran out of seating in the back of her car. "With four car seats [already] in the back, he didn't have a spot to fit in," she explains.

Lynn V. notes that she would have had to let one of her three children ride in front when she owned a Plymouth Breeze. However, because she felt it was unsafe, she instead bought a Ford Expedition that had more rear seating available.

4. When Air Bags Are Turned Off

If you do place your child in the front seat, Kelly B. suggests checking to see whether your car's air bag has an on-off switch or taking your vehicle to the car dealership so that it can be disabled, and Brandy S. provides more details:

"Most two-seat cars and pickup trucks sold these days either have a switch that allows you to manually turn off the air bag, or they have 'smart' air bags that detect the weight of the body in the passenger seat and will automatically turn it off if the body does not weigh more than a certain amount. In certain scenarios, you may be able to take your vehicle to the dealership and have them deactivate the air bag if your vehicle does not offer other air bag-off options for placing a child in the passenger seat."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration maintains a list of companies that install airbag on-off switches, Kelly adds, although she says parents need to get permission from that government organization before installing such a switch. And "if your passengers have all moved out of the car-seat phase, your biggest or tallest passenger should ride in the front seat, and [you should] move his seat as far back from the dashboard as possible," Kelly says.

Once the air bag is disabled, Charlie P. feels that the front seat is a "safe and practical place for a rear facing child" in a car seat, because, among other reasons, the front of the vehicle and dashboard are the strongest points in the car and research shows that parents are less distracted when their child is in the front vs. rear seat. "Safety conscious brands such as Volvo also state very clearly that front seat is just as safe as the rear seat for car seats," this member notes.

Safety First

Whatever your circumstances, the most important consideration, say many moms, is safety: if you're not comfortable with the idea of moving your child up front, don't cave in. A member named Kelly suggests buying some time by getting a high-back booster seat and installing it in the center of the back seat so that your child can more easily see and talk to you without having to sit next to you. As RenaFaye N. reminds, your most important consideration should be safety: "A child's safety is more important than what she thinks she wants."

Image Source: Thinkstock
CarrieAdlerWheeler CarrieAdlerWheeler 3 years

My daughter is 11. She started at the age of 9. She was 5 ft 3. If going by height my 21 year old sister who is 4t 11 wouldn't be in a front seat ever.

JacquieBrown1389456641 JacquieBrown1389456641 3 years

I run a small home daycare and I have to transport those kids to school, events, etc. My van has seating for 5 in the back. I right now have 3 children after school and two other children that I have during the day. The 5 of them fill my van leaving no room for my son. So rather then saying no to a family and leaving that seat open, I got approved from the ministry of transportation and had an airbag on/off switch put in. There is no law in Ontario/Canada that says children have to sit in the back, my son sits in his booster in the front seat. And that's his spot all the time.......the other spots in the van have a car seat or smaller backless boosters which he is too small for, even when the van is empty he sits there as I am not moving car seats around to go to the store. Now when we are in my husband's car he is in the back because it "doesn't have a switch". Lol it has a sensor but he doesn't need to know that. I feel my van is far safer for him to be in the front of then the car, it's not even a question. But as far as safety in an accident goes, your place in the vehicle has no relevance. I've seen just as many accidents where a car gets seriously rear ended or spun around and got hit or hit something else and if anyone had been in the back they would have been dead. The solution is simply to slow down, remove distraction, drive sensibly, and pay attention. I have been driving for almost 20 years and not been in an accident simply because of my driving ethics. It's been close a few times and the only reason it didn't end up a crash was because I was paying attention. I'm not saying I'm a perfect driver and it's going to happen at some point but I think there would be far less accidents if people just payed attention to what's around them.

JacquieBrown1389456641 JacquieBrown1389456641 3 years

"Should". In other words it's recommend, not law.

LisaMclaughlin40814 LisaMclaughlin40814 3 years

I have looked at the rules and regs in England and it states that the child has to be 148cm before they can sit up front, which is why I tell my 10yr old to grow another 8 cm before she's allowed to sit there. With the odd occasion where she has no choice she has to but normally she sits in the back until then.

Laura15252613 Laura15252613 3 years
I have 6 children. All under 6 years old. We have a nine seater car (expert tepee), and all are in RF car seats. However my eldest who is 5 (6 in sept) will have to sit up front in the middle between DH & I when the new arrival gets here. Now here's my dilemma. He is still rear facing, would his seat still fit in the front or do we ultimately turn him ff? which we are hesitant to do.
ChetMC ChetMC 4 years
I would wait until at least thirteen. My understanding is that it isn't just about height and weight, but also about bone development. Even after thirteen I would be very hesitant to put a small thirteen year old in the front seat. I was still under a hundred pounds at thirteen, and based on their current rate of growth, I won't be surprised if our kids fail to break a hundred pounds before they're thirteen too.
4-great-kids 4-great-kids 4 years
I have 4 children ages 16- 10 yrs old. I still don't allow my children to sit in the front seat
AronHolwig AronHolwig 4 years
i wouldnt want my kids sitting in the front seat mainly because of injuries i suffered from air bags in what wasnt a very bad accident. i was sitting in the passenger seat and the air bags burned my legs, one spot burned bad enough to bleed, i also got a cut on the other leg. i have scars from both the cut and the burn that bled and dark spots from the burns that wernt that bad. all 3 of my kids were in the backseat 2 in boosters and one in a car seat which was just purchased the week before for her first bday so she could now be front facing, all were perfectly fine. my husband was driving and he got minor burns from the air bags, nothing that left a lasting mark.
KatrinaHelm KatrinaHelm 4 years
I've had each of mine wait until they turn 14, then I spend that whole year explaining how to drive & quiz them on the signs, laws & directions. Once they turned 15, I tried to get them as much time behind the wheel as possible so that I was sure they were prepared to drive alone at 16.
I am 44 years-old...I am only 4'9"(58 inches). I need a booster seat! I sit so close to the dash, I can lick the window!
CarrieFossum CarrieFossum 4 years
In Wisconsin law child must be 13yrs to sit in front and for safety reasons your child must meet height and weight requirements... My daughters 5'6 and 170# and 12 yrs old.. My son 11 yrs 4'3 65# so it all depends on each individual child..
MariaElenaPalomo MariaElenaPalomo 4 years
We just have to be safe and have them all in a seatbelt!!!! and/or car seat! our kids are our life! We must take care of them properly! :-)
AlisonFranzen AlisonFranzen 4 years
Front seat safety also has a lot to do with what would happen if your 12 year old, 5'6" child sat in the front and their face hit the air bag during an accident, god forbid. The growth plates in their faces are still growing well into their teens and if broken, would never mend as well. By late teens, growth plates are more stable and more capable of repairing properly when traumatized. My son is 11 and our pediatrician just explained this to us. He'll have to wait...
AmandaSutter43165 AmandaSutter43165 4 years
I have 2 kids my daughter is 12 yrs old and nearly as tall as me I'm 5f 7 incs she can sit in front with me no booster seat I have a son nearly 10 he can sit up front with me with a booster seat makes him bigger. What makes me mad is when I see a 2 sweater sports car and they have a baby seat in the passenger place WTF do they think they are playing at, I mean come on I think a child is more important than to try and look cool in a sports car
anonymousanonymous anonymousanonymous 4 years
I thought it was height and weight not age. What about the 11 year old who is 5'1" and weighs > 100 lbs?
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