Motor vehicle crashes are one of the leading causes of death in children. Our culture is on the go all the time. So practicing vehicle safety is one of the most important ways for us to protect our kids. Chances are, when your child was an infant and rear-facing in their car seat, you knew ALL about car seat safety (at least, we hope so!). However, as your child grows, it’s easy to get ahead of ourselves when it comes to the long road of child passenger safety. 

So, what are the recommendations? Well, your child will likely be in a child restraint system until 12 years old.

Your kid will be in a car seat for 10+ years

This might be confusing and surprising to you since the National Safety Council stated children 10 and older can sit in the front seat. To help you understand this question, we’re breaking down the question further than just a simple yes or no. Here’s whether or not it’s safe for your 10-year-old to sit in the front seat:

Can 10-Year-Olds Sit In The Front Seat?

10-year-olds can sit in the front seat in certain circumstances, but it’s not recommended. The front seat is the most dangerous part of the car since front collisions are the most common motor vehicle accidents. In the passenger seat, a child will not only be subject to a lot of the crash force and shattered glass from the windshield but they’ll be hit by the airbag too. An airbag shoots out of your car at 186 miles per hour, which can cause significant injury. And even death in children that are shorter and smaller in stature, with immature bone structures too.

So, is it okay to have your 10-year-old in the passenger seat? Well, even though the NHTSA and the AAP both recommend 12+ years and the CDC recommends 13+ years, the true answer of “When can my child sit in the front seat?” isn’t that simple. When your child is safe riding in the front seat depends on several factors! We’ll talk about those next.

When Can A Child Sit In The Front Seat? 

When the law says they can.

The first thing you need to do is look up what your state’s child passenger safety laws require. Some states have no specific guidelines on when children ride in the front seat, whereas others prohibit it until a certain age (usually around 8). Of course, these are just bare minimum requirements, and the laws don’t represent the safest options, so you need to consider all the factors on this list, not just this one. 

When they’re the right height and weight. 

The National Safety Council says that children need to reach certain weight and height limits before they can sit in the front seat. They recommend the child be at least 4 ft 9 in tall and 80 lbs. 

These minimum requirements are meant to ensure the seat belt will properly fit the child, and the airbag won’t cause significant harm if deployed. However, we know that 4 ft 9 in and 80 lbs doesn’t look the same on every child. Proportions matter, this study finds, so make sure your child can also complete the 5-step test.

When they pass the 5-step test. 

A vehicle seat is meant to keep passengers safe when fitted in a specific way. You can’t let a young child sit in a regular vehicle seat because the seat belts and chair won’t fit them properly! You can be confident the vehicle safety features will work in your child’s favor when they pass the test below. Ensure your child’s. . . 

  1. Bum is flush against the vehicle’s seat.
  2. Knees bend at the edge of the seat, and their feet sit firmly planted on the floor. 
  3. Lap belt sits low across the top of the thighs. 
  4. Shoulder belt lies between the neck and the shoulder. 
  5. Maturity allows them to sit correctly for the entire ride. 

5 Step Test
5 Step Test

Your child must be able to do all these things before they can even graduate from their booster seat, let alone sit in the front seat. Young children under the age of 8 or 9 sadly won’t meet these requirements. So, they should stay comfortable in the backseat, in a booster, until they meet these requirements. And once they’re ready to sit up front, make sure you adjust the settings of the passenger seat and seatbelt to ensure a proper fit.

When they’re mature enough. 

Even if your child is at the minimum age, height, and weight requirements for the front seat and your child passes most of the 5-step checklist, your kiddo still may not be ready for front seat responsibilities. 

If your child moves to a regular vehicle seat without any sort of restraint, they must maintain themselves in the proper upright position the whole trip. That means no slouching to snooze, ducking under the shoulder belt, or shifting around while playing with toys. They must stay sitting up the whole time without the support of a 5-point harness or highback booster. This is a tall order for most kids, especially preteens! 

In the front seat, maintaining the right posture is even more important to prevent potential injury from the airbag. Leaning forward or putting their feet on the dash can lead to disastrous consequences. All in all, if your child is not mature enough to maintain the correct seated position, it’d be best for them to ride in a booster in the backseat. You’d probably be surprised at the height and weight limits on your booster. Your child is expected to stay in them longer than you think!

When you decide it’s necessary. 

A good question to ask yourself is, “Why do they need to sit in the front seat?” No matter who you are, the rear seats are safer. It’s just a fact! All passengers in the backseats of a car are safer than those in the front. So, if the only reason you’re considering putting your child in the front seat is that they “want to,” it’d be a good idea to reconsider our priorities. 

Safety is first—period! That goes beyond social image and your child’s preteen whims. Unless there is some necessity to have your child in the front seat, avoid it as often as possible. Even when they’ve reached the minimum requirements for the passenger seat. Remember, the backseat is best!

Booster Seats

Requirements For a Child To Sit In The Front Seat

  • At least 12 years old
  • At least 4 ft 9 in tall
  • At least 80 lbs
  • Mature enough to sit in the proper position for the whole ride
  • Bum sits flush against the vehicle seat
  • Knees bend at the edges of the seat
  • Feet are firmly planted on the floor
  • The lap belt sits low across the top of the thighs
  • The shoulder belt lies between the neck and shoulder

Your 10-year-old child can legally sit in the front seat, but it’s not a safe choice! 

Friend, you’ve worked so hard to keep your child safe up to this point. Don’t give in now, near the end of your car seat journey! You know your kiddo is safer in the backseat. Keep your child passengers in the rear seat and in the recommended car seat for their age, height, weight, and maturity. 

Car Seat Progression eBook
Car Seat Progression eBook

If you’re still unsure where your child is safest, book one of our consults where you’ll meet with a certified car seat safety technician! We’ll be able to assess your exact situation and help you make the right choice for your family. You can also check out our forward-facing and booster car seat buying kit to find the perfect seat for your big kid. Safe in the Seat is your number one resource for car seat and vehicle safety!

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