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Q

What are the requirements in Rhode Island for a child to sit in the front passenger seat?


A

Rhode Island is one state that has laws regarding the age a child may sit in the front seat of a motor vehicle. Rhode Island General Law Section 31-22-22 tells motorist in RI when a child should be in the rear seat of a car. Here it states in subsection (a):

Any person transporting a child under the age of eight (8), less than fifty-seven (57) inches in height and less than eighty (80) pounds in a motor vehicle operated on the roadways, streets, or highways of this state, shall transport the child in any rear seating position of the motor vehicle properly restrained in a child restraint system approved by the United States Department of Transportation under Federal Standard 213. If the child is under eight (8) years old but at least fifty-seven (57) inches in height, or at least eighty (80) pounds the child shall be properly wearing a safety belt and/or shoulder harness approved by the Department of Transportation pursuant to Federal Standard 208 in any rear seating position of the motor vehicle. For the purpose of this section, applying to all parts of this section, "rear seating position" means any seating positions located behind the driver and front seat passenger.

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So 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. Older children can be a passenger in any seating position in a vehicle as long as they are properly wearing a safety belt.

There are exceptions to this Rhode Island Child Restraint law. RI GL 31-22-22 does note that children under age eight (8) years are exempt from being transported in any rear seating position if:

(i) the vehicle has no backseat (i.e. pickup, sports car)
(ii) all rear seating positions are already being utilized by other children.

Note that in the (ii) situation, the oldest child should ride in the front seat if vehicle is equipped with a passenger side air bag.

The fine for a child riding in the front seat or over 8 years old not in a seat belt is $85. A violation for transporting a child not in a child restraint system requires an appearance in court per the information from the RI Department of Transportation.

While Rhode Island allows a child of age 8 or older 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. The CDC, the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, the NHTSA, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety all recommend children age 12 and younger ride in a rear seat of a passenger vehicle if one is available no matter what your state law says.

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