Kids in the Front Seat? Not So Fast!

Did you know that 276 million vehicles are registered in the United States according to the US Department of Transportation? That means that 91% of households have access to a vehicle and since driving is one of the most dangerous things we ever do, it’s incredibly important that you understand the critical laws and safety recommendations so you can be as safe as possible behind the wheel.

While you likely know that it’s important to buckle your seatbelt and avoid using your phone while driving, did you also know that there are specific laws and guidelines for children as passengers in the car? From determining when it’s appropriate for kids to ride in the front seat to strict laws regarding seat belts, keep reading to learn more about the laws and guidelines to help you keep your children safe in cars.

Mark’s personal experience

One of the gray areas when it comes to safety laws in motor vehicles that many would be surprised to learn is a gray area is the age at which a child is old enough to ride in the front seat. Sitting up front seems to be a “cool” thing to do and a privilege so it’s not a surprise that kids who feel “old enough” expect to be sitting up front before it is technically safe to do so. As a child, Mark T Freeley remembers yelling the word “shotgun” before his siblings so he could “call” the front seat of the car.

Fast forward to 2011, he found himself on the other side of the decision as his nine-year-old daughter would continue to pester him about wanting to sit in the front seat of the car. While his normal reaction to his daughter’s question was to say “no, it’s against the law”, he was surprised to learn that in New York there actually was no law that required a child to be of a certain age to sit in the front seat. That remains true today.

New York State guidelines in 2022

Instead of a specific law regarding the age a child must be to sit in the front seat, New York State’s seat belt law suggests that for maximum protection, children under the age of 13 should sit in the rear of the vehicle. The New York State department of health has even published a set of safety guidelines for child passenger safety. The major takeaways from these guidelines are:

  • Use a rear-facing car seat until your child is two years old.
  • Use a forward-facing car seat when your child outgrows the rear-facing weight or height limit. They should remain in this seat until they are up to the car seat’s highest weight or height limit.
  • Use a belt-positioning booster seat when your child’s weight or height is above the car seat’s forward facing limit. Keep them in this seat until the lap and shoulder belts fit properly which typically happens around 8-12 years old.
  • Only use a lap and shoulder belt when they fit your child properly. A proper fit means they are low and snug across your child’s upper thighs and the shoulder belt lies across the middle of their chest and shoulder.
  • All children under the age of 13 should ride in the back seat.

Seat belt law reminder

As a reminder, as of November 1, 2020, every passenger in your car must wear a seat belt regardless of age or seating position. This includes drivers and all passengers. If your passengers do not wear a seat belt, your vehicle can be pulled over and your adult passengers may receive a ticket. If you are transporting a passenger under the age of 16 who is not wearing their seatbelt and they are not accompanied by a parent or guardian, as the driver you could receive a fine and three driver license penalty points for each violation. While the lack of a clear law regarding the age of when it’s appropriate to sit in the front seat leaves some uncomfortable room for error and safety risks, it is important that you keep in mind that keeping your children in the back seat until they are in their teen years is your safest option. Motor vehicle injuries are a leading cause of death among children. Airbags deploy at around 240 miles per hour and can cause serious injuries to young kids. Keeping your children in the back seat while they are still young is truly your best bet. Keep it safe out there!