Medical News Today: When can a child sit in the front seat of a car?

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A child’s age, height, and weight determine the most appropriate way for them to sit in a vehicle.

Parents and caregivers can keep children safe by buckling them into a seat that is appropriate for their age, height, and weight.

Compared with seat belt use alone, car seat use lowers the risk of injury in vehicle crashes by up to 82% in children.

The following sections contain car seat recommendations for children of different age groups.

Birth to 3 years

In previous years, the AAP recommended that children ride in rear-facing car seats until they reached 2 years of age.

However, the AAP have since changed this recommendation in response to recent research findings. They now suggest that children ride in a rear-facing car seat until they exceed the seat’s weight and height limits.

Parents and caregivers should also keep rear-facing car seats in the back seat of the car to prevent airbag injuries. Airbags present a significant risk to children in rear-facing car seats because their heads are much closer to the airbag.

3 to 7 years

Those aged 3–7 years may exceed the weight and height limits of their rear-facing car seat. If this is the case, they should instead sit in a forward-facing car seat in the back seat of the vehicle.

Height and weight recommendations for car seat use vary by state. Weight limits for most seats range from 20–65 pounds (lb). Height limits also vary. Generally, children must be at least 4 feet 9 inches tall before they stop using a car seat.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that children use a forward-facing car seat until they reach at least 5 years of age, however.

8 to 12 years

When a child outgrows their forward-facing car seat, they should use a booster seat. This is to ensure that the car’s seat belt fits correctly. The lap belt must lie across the child’s upper thighs, and the shoulder belt should fit snuggly against their shoulder and chest.

According to the National Safety Council, children should ride in a booster seat until they reach all of the following:

  • at least 9 years of age
  • 4 feet 9 inches in height
  • 80 lb in weight

State-specific child safety laws

Child passenger safety laws vary by state. People can learn more about their state’s child passenger safety law by visiting their state’s government website. Alternatively, people can visit the Governors Highway Safety Association page on child passenger safety.

Most states permit children over a certain age or size to use an adult seat belt without a car seat or booster seat. Others require booster seats or other child restraint devices for children who have outgrown their car seats.

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