Depending on when and where you grew up, you may remember riding up front with mom or dad as young as two or three years old - but we know better now! Young children belong in the back seat, strapped into a proper car seat or booster seat.
But when can a child sit in the front seat? When is it legal? When is it truly safe?
You’ve got a lot of questions, so we’ll break it all down for you, and tell you the height and age that your child needs to be to sit in the passenger seat. We'll address safety concerns and then go into the question of legality state by state (it varies).
Always stick to the laws and use your best judgment, but this guide will give you the straight facts to get started safely.
Why Can't My Child Sit in the Front Seat?
First of all, the passenger-side airbag is designed for adults, not children. These airbags are meant to protect people who are at least five feet tall and weigh over 150 pounds.
If the airbag isn’t active, a child in the passenger seat could slam into the dashboard or the window during a collision or sudden stop. That could cause serious injury or worse.
In addition to being unsafe, allowing your small child to sit up front is illegal. It’s never worth getting a ticket, so be smart about it!
Where Should They Sit?
The CDC and AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) recommend that all children under the age of 13 sit in the backseat, restrained by lap and shoulder belts.
The safest place for your child to sit is in the middle seat in the second row. This is the seat least likely to be impacted in a collision or crash. Children in this seat are also less likely to slam into the seat in front of them.
Infants and toddlers should remain in rear-facing seats as long as possible. Once they've outgrown the height or weight limits of their seat, they can transition to a larger seat with a harness and then to a booster seat.
Keep an eye on how your child fits into his or her seat, because as you know, they’re growing fast at that stage. You want them comfortable and secure, so a proper fit is key.
Need some help on seat installation or other tips? Many cities offer free resources - often at the local fire station - to ensure that car seats are installed correctly. There are also plenty of videos and instructional guides online, and they’re worth referencing even if you think you have the basics down.
There always seems to be some strap or clip that doesn’t make sense when securing a car seat. It’s probably important! Don’t leave anything to chance when you’re dealing with something so precious as your own kids.
When Can My Child Sit Up Front?
When your child reaches a certain age, it’s only a matter of time before they start asking to sit in the front seat. It’s just one of those all-important rites of passage that every kid values.
They’ll try the polite approach – saying please – and may even resort to a temper tantrum to get their way. You know all the tactics by now, and you’ve got to stand strong! You don’t want to put lives at risk or get in trouble with the law.
The AAP recommends that all children 12 and under sit in the back - so your child can sit up front when they turn thirteen – that’s the common knowledge that many parents tend to follow.
Seat belts fit properly when children reach a height of 4'9", so they can transition out of booster seats at this height. Some kids would like to stay in the booster, while others can’t wait to break free.
Depending on where you live, it may be legal to allow a tall child under 12 years of age to sit up front. Just read those laws carefully. Consider disabling your passenger-side airbag if your child is less than five feet tall or under 150 pounds.
It’s all case-dependent, so don’t feel pressured to put your young ones in the front seat if you don’t want to. By the time they reach that age, however, they’ll probably be eager to do so!
Front Seat Laws by State
These laws vary widely from one state to another. Here are the laws for each state in the United States. Learn those laws by heart, especially if you have multiple children or more on the way! It’s easy to forget those small details when you’ve got your hands full.
We even recommend printing out a piece of paper with your state’s laws and keep it in the glove compartment of your car, so you never have to do any guesswork.
For moms and dads driving minivans, this reference material will definitely come in the clutch at some point – best practices are a must!
Road trippers need to take extra caution when driving between state lines, because things might be different just one or two states over. Better safe than sorry, we always say.
Make the Process Fun
From a kid’s perspective, car seats and boosters just aren’t cool. They’re also kind of uncomfortable. A big part of our jobs as parents is to make those annoying things in life just a bit more fun and interesting.
Give your kids something to look forward to or reward them with positive reinforcement if they maintain a good attitude about staying calm and seated. Think of the process like when they start losing teeth or potty training—one step at a time.
When they reach a certain age, you can allow them to buckle themselves into the seat, which gives them a big sense of independence. Just make sure all the safety boxes are checked before liftoff.
The Right Clothes
While we're on the subject of car seats, did you know that bulky winter coats prevent car seats from working properly? In those cold winter months, this is something to keep in mind, even if you’re just driving around the neighborhood.
Remove puffy coats before strapping your children in. High-quality warm clothing will keep them warm in the car without adding extra bulk. We recommend garments made from recycled terry cloth and polyester from upcycled plastic bottles. Stay nice and cozy while minimizing waste and helping the planet – everyone wins!
Even when the weather heats up, those car seats can be a bit uncomfortable. Durable yet soft shirts and onesies can help protect your child’s skin and make sure they stay happy for the duration of the whole ride.
If comfy clothes can put your child in a better mood and save you some headaches in the process, you might as well take advantage!
More comfort, more security, happy passengers – that’s what we all want from our experience behind the wheel. Follow the laws, make it fun for everyone, and keep your kids clothed with quality pieces. You’ll be the master of the road in no time.