When Can a Child Ride in the Front Seat?

Shelley Frost
- December 21, 2017

Child Passenger Safety Guidelines for Older Kids

When Can a Child Ride in the Front Seat?

Once your child graduates from a car seat or booster seat, he may want to move into the front seat. As exciting as it is for kids to ride in the front, the back seat is the safest spot for as long as possible. Even if your child throws a tantrum, keep him in the back seat until the recommended minimum age to reduce the risks of serious injury or even death in an accident.

Minimum Recommended Age for Riding in the Front Seat

Experts agree that the minimum age for riding in the front seat of a passenger vehicle is 13. All kids ages 12 and under should sit in the back seat, secured in a seat belt, booster seat or car seat. Which option your younger child uses depends primarily on her height and weight. All car seats have maximum height and weight limits. It's best to keep your child in each type of seat until she reaches the maximum age and weight.

Why the Back Seat Is Safest

Why is the front seat so dangerous for kids under 13? Not only does the seat put him near the impact if you hit something with the front of your car, but he is also by the airbags. Even though the airbags may be beneficial to you, they can be dangerous or even deadly to kids. If your child has to ride in the front seat even after age 12, it's best to slide the seat back as far as possible to put more distance between his body and the airbag.

Remember that each time your child transitions to the next type of car restraint or position in the car, the situation is a little less safe for him. That's why experts recommend keeping kids in their current restraints as long as possible. Babies should stay rear-facing until age 2, or as long as possible. Toddlers and preschoolers should stay in a forward-facing five-point harness car seat until they reach the maximum weight and height limit. You should use the booster seat as long as possible to make sure the seat belt fits properly. And your child should stay in the back seat until he's older.

Seat Belt Safety for Kids

No matter where your child sits in the car, proper seat belt safety is crucial. Check for a proper fit by securing your child's seat belt around her. If it fits properly, the lap belt crosses the hips or upper thighs snugly. The shoulder belt should cross the chest and shoulder without touching the face and neck. Your child should also be able to sit with her back and bottom against the seat back with her knees bent at the front edge of the seat.

If she fails any of these checks, it's best to keep her in a belt-positioning booster seat. The seat gives her the height she needs to sit safely in the car with the seat belt crossing in the correct spots. Most kids need to stay in booster seats until they reach about 4 feet, 9 inches tall.

About the Author

Shelley Frost relies on her experience as a mom and working professional to cover topics on sites such as Working Mother and Intuit. She runs her own business and has previous experience working in educational management, insurance and software testing. She routinely covers parenting, education and business topics in her freelance career.