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Q

What age does a child have to be ride in the front seat according to the Texas State Law. Is it age or weight that they go by?


A

Many states do not have laws regarding at what age one may start allowing their child to sit in the front seat but require a child to be placed in certain safety restraints until a certain age or weight but suggest that the child remain in the back seat until about age 12 or 13.

We contacted the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to find out for certain if there was a law in place or not regarding this subject. The DPS representative responded that there is no law that prevents children from sitting in the front seat of a vehicle however the safest place for a child in a car is in a rear seat, properly buckled into a child safety seat or a booster seat. So Texas is one such state that does not have a specific law or statute that pertains to children sitting in the front seat.

The TX DPS representative went on to say that the knowledge that your vehicle is equipped with air bags should not replace the use of the required child safety seats and may increase the risk of serious injury to children if they are seated in the front seat.

It is recommended that children younger than 13 should never ride in the front seats of vehicles with active passenger air bags. If you do have to transport a child in the front seat in an emergency the Texas DPS advises to make sure the front seat is moved all the way back on the track, placing as much room as possible between the deployment zone of the air bag and the vehicle seat and of course never place a rear-facing safety seat on a front seat.

You may be aware that there is a new Texas booster seat law. This law requires all children younger than eight (8) years old, UNLESS taller than 4'9" to be in child passenger safety seat system. Texas defines a child passenger safety seat system as traditional car seats with harnesses and booster seats (both high-back and backless versions).

The TX DPS has come out with a brochure regarding this new law since there seems to be some confusion about it. They state in this that because of the changes of the wording in the law (per SB61); the following legal interpretation should be applied:

  • Once a child reaches eight (8) years old, they are not legally required to be in a child safety seat system.
  • If the child is younger than eight years old, BUT they are already 4'9" tall, they are not legally required to be in a child safety seat system.
  • If a child is eight years old or older, and not yet 4'9" tall, they are not legally required to be in a child safety seat system.

The law also requires that safety and booster seats be installed and used according to the manufacturer's instructions, including age, height and weight requirements and the placement in the vehicle. Some manufacturers prohibit using their products on the front seats of vehicles so that alone could keep you from placing your child in the front seat before they turn 8.

The other part of the law that may cause some confusion are the dates of when the law takes effect and when the enforcement phase begins. The booster seat law will take effect September 1, 2009. Law enforcement officers may only enforce the new changes in the law with written or verbal warnings until June 1, 2010 though. Starting on June 1, 2010, Texas law enforcement officers may then arrest or issue a citation/notice to appear to a person committing an offense.

A fine of not more than $25 can be assessed for a first offense and no more than $250 for the second or subsequent offenses to this new booster seat law once the citations begin to be written in June of 2010.


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