When Can Kids Ride in the Front Seat?

General wisdom states that kids are typically ready to ride in the front seat once they hit the teen years, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agrees—all kids age 12 and under should sit in the back seat.1

Many states also have laws that outline when a child is legally allowed to ride without a booster seat, which is a prerequisite for sitting in the front seat. Be sure to check the laws in your state before moving your child from the back seat to the front.

Using a strict age guideline isn’t always the safest way to make this decision. No matter what, riding in the front seat is always riskier than riding in the back, so it’s important to make a careful choice about when to allow your child to ride in the front seat.

When Can Kids Ride in the Front Seat?

Restraint Safety Is Top Priority

Before kids ride in the front seat, they need to be able to properly use an adult seat belt with a shoulder strap. The shoulder belt needs to rest flush against the child’s collarbone and not across their throat. The lap belt should fit snugly across the child’s hips and upper thighs, not across their abdomen. Children who need to use a car seat or booster seat should not ride in the front seat.

Airbags are another big consideration. Because children riding in the front seat have been killed by airbags, many cars now come with sensors that automatically turn off the airbag if the passenger in the seat weighs less than a certain amount. If your car doesn’t include one of these airbag sensors, you should keep your kids in the back seat.

The Back Seat Is Still the Safest Place for Kids

Even when a child has reached the proper age and/or size to safely sit in the front seat, it’s important to remember that the back seat remains the safest place. The front seat presents the added risk of being injured by items intruding into the car during a crash. The safest policy is to use the front seat sparingly, and only as a last resort when there are no other seats available.

And don’t forget—as long as your kids are still under size requirements, they’ll be safest in a car seat or booster seat. If you’re not sure which model is the best fit for your child, check out our Car Seat Buyers Guide for help.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Child Passenger Safety