When Can My Child Ride in the Front?

We are all guilty of occasionally rewarding our children’s good behavior with special indulgences. Think about the extra candy bar or the special trip to the swimming pool this summer. But perhaps the most dangerous reward parents give their children is letting the child ride in the front seat!

The truth is that the back seat is always a safer choice – not just for children, but for everyone! Most crashes are frontal crashes, so just by virtue of being in the back seat you are further away from the point of impact. Children are not just small adults. Their bones and ligaments are still developing, and they are more vulnerable to crash forces than a full-grown adult. Studies have shown that restrained children in rear seats have the lowest risk of dying in fatal crashes. Even in side-impact crashes, properly restrained children in the back seat do better than children sitting in the front. Frontal air bags can also pose a danger to children, just as they can to small adults.

So what is the minimum age when a child can ride in the front seat? The American Academy of Pediatrics continues to recommend that children under 13 years of age sit in the back seat for the best protection. Children under 13 are always safer buckled up in the back seat in the appropriate car seat for their age or a seat belt if they are big enough to fit correctly.

Unfortunately, the law in Texas does not address seating positions. The law simply states that children under age 8, unless taller than 4’9”, must be in a child safety seat according to manufacturers’ instructions. The law is always the minimum. Parents and caregivers want the maximum safety for their children.

The Passenger Safety Unit with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension reminds parents and caregivers to keep children rear-facing until age two or until the limit of their rear-facing convertible seat is reached, which is usually 35-40 pounds. Also, children should stay in a 5-point harness system until they are mature enough to ride in a booster seat. Booster seats are for children who are at least age four and 40 pounds or more. Finally, keep children in a booster seat until the seat belt fits correctly. This is usually sometime between ages 8 and 12 years old when the child reaches 4’9” tall and the lap and shoulder belt fit correctly. The average child reaches 4’9” at age 11!

Next time you are thinking about rewarding your child, think about treating them like a VIP and keeping them in the back seat! Explain how the back seat is more protective, buckle them up correctly, and take them out for a healthy fruit smoothie!! Remember, children under age 13 are safest in the back seat buckled up on every trip!


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