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When can a child ride in the front seat?


Legislation varies from state to state regarding the issue of seat belts, child restraints and when a child may be allowed to sit in the front seat. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends all children under age 13 sit in the back seat of a motor vehicle. Many states also suggest that the age of 13 is when it is appropriate for a child to finally sit in the front seat.

For example, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet notes there is not a state law governing the age of front seat passengers but that the risk of injury is greater in the front seat for children, with or without an airbag. Research shows it is best for children ages 12 and under to ALWAYS ride in the back seat, so that is their recommendation as well.

New York State says that although the state doesn't have a law preventing children from sitting in the front seat, it is highly recommended that all children age 12 and under ride properly restrained in the back seat. Researchers estimate that just by putting a child in the back seat instead of the front seat reduces the chance of injury and death by more than 30 percent.

New York also says that infants in rear-facing car seats should never be placed in the front seat of a car with a passenger-side air bag. While air bags provide effective protection for adult passengers, the great forces produced by an inflating air bag can injure or even kill a child. In fact, the safest place for children of all ages to ride is in the rear seat of the vehicle. If there is no other option, children in forward-facing child seats can ride in the front seat, but the passenger seat should be placed as far back from the dashboard (and air bag) as possible.

Rhode Island's laws were update in 2011 and say that:

  • Children under age eight (8) years old, less than fifty-seven (57) inches (4 feet, 9 inches) tall and weighing less that 80 lbs.  must be transported in any rear seating position of a motor vehicle and properly restrained in a child restraint system.
  • Children between the ages of 8 through 12 as a passenger in any seating position shall be properly wearing a safety belt.

Rhode Island defines "rear seating position" as meaning any seating positions located behind the driver and front seat passenger. This state's law (General Law 31-22-22) does allow that a child can ride in the front seat if:

  1. The vehicle is not equipped with a back seat; or
  2. All rear seating positions are being utilized by other children.

    California law (CA Vehicle Code 2736) changed in 2012.  It used to require that any child under the age of six weighing less than 60 pounds must be secured in a federally approved child passenger restraint system and ride in the back seat of a vehicle. But now the law has been updated and says that a driver shouldn't transport a child who is under eight years of age, or who is less than 4 feet 9 inches tall, without properly securing that child in a rear seat in an appropriate child passenger restraint system meeting applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards.

    In California, a child under age eight may ride, in an appropriate restraint system, in the front seat if:

    • There is no rear seat.
    • The rear seats are side-facing jump seats.
    • The rear seats are rear-facing seats.
    • The car seat or booster cannot be installed properly in the rear seat.
    • All rear seats are already occupied by children seven years of age or under.
    • Medical reasons require that a child cannot ride in the rear seat. Proof of the child’s medical condition may be required.
    • However, a child cannot be transported in a rear-facing car seat in the front seat that is equipped with an active frontal passenger airbag.

    California also notes that everyone in a car must be properly buckled up.  For each child under 16 that is not properly secured, the driver or parents (if in the car) can be fixed more than $475 and the offense is one point on a California driving record.

    The NHTSA site says that the rear seat is the safest place for children of any age to ride. An infant in a rear-facing child seat must ride in the back seat if your vehicle has a passenger air bag. Make sure that everyone in the front seat is properly buckled up and seated as far back from the air bags as is reasonably possible when they do reach an age in which to sit in the front.

    They also advise drivers to make sure that all young children are properly secured in an age and size appropriate restraints. The NHTSA has an Auto Safety Hotline at 1-888-DASH-2-DOT (1-888-327-4236) that you can call to get more information on this topic.

    To find out if your state has any laws that mandate you cannot have a child under a certain age in the front seat, contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles.

    The safety of your child is important, so find out your state laws regarding where they can sit at what age.  Getting a ticket for not having a child properly restrained can affect your car insurance rates. 

    If you have already had your rates raised due to such a ticket, compare insurance companies to make sure you are getting the cheapest rates possible.  Even with a ticket on your record rates can vary by hundreds of dollars, if not more. 


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    10 Responses to "When can a child ride in the front seat?"
    1. Emma Keckler

      This is a great answer.

    2. jess

      I am 10 and my mom lets me sit in the front, but she also lets my brother sit in the front and he is only 7. I don't know if she is allowed to do this. Can someone please tell me ?

    3. scott

      I am 11 years old and my mom and dad let me sit up front.

    4. holly

      I am 12 years old and I don't want my 9 year old sister sitting in the front seat because it is embarrassing she 110 lbs. and 4' 10. I live I New Jersey what can I use to get her out of the front seat or do the laws allow her to sit there?

    5. Visitor

      This was a very interesting article, but I want to know how tall/ how much weight/ what age in North Carolina.

    6. Anonymous

      how tall in washintion?

    7. Anonymous

      what if you weigh 90 pounds does it stil matter how old you are?

    8. Anonymous

      can I sit in the front seat when I am 9 years old

    9. Anonymous


    10. Anonymous

      Wow that was great but I have an idea like for the northeast regieon put the biggest states law and for the western part put Californias so then you can look and see like a lot of the big states + the state the person asked for.