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.

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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.

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Child car crash fatalities

In 2019, over 600 children aged 12 and younger died in car crashes and more than 91,000 suffered injuries. In crashes with child fatalities, 38% weren't properly restrained in the vehicle. Use of car seats reduce the risk of injury by as much as 82% and booster seats reduce risk of serious injury by 45%. Seat belts reduce risk of death or serious injury by around 50% for older kids and adults.1

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.


Compare the best child safety products

Product
Price
Specs
Standout feature
Learn more
Best booster seat For kids up to 120 lbs. 3 layers of side-impact protection
Best kids GPS tracker Encrypted location trackingGeofences
Best kids phoneUnlimited talk and textGPS tracking
Best kids smartwatch Two-way voice and messagingUp to 53 parent-approved contacts
Best parental control appRequires iOS 11 or Android 5 and upMonitors 24 social networks
Best kids bike helmet47–57 cm. head circumferenceEasy-to-adjust tri-glide strap sliders

Data as of post date. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change. SafeWise uses paid Amazon links.

*Amazon.com price as of 4/8/2021 at 9:10 a.m. (MT). Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on Amazon at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. Safewise.com utilizes paid Amazon links.


Sources

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Child Passenger Safety” Accessed July 28, 2022.
Rebecca Edwards
Written by
Rebecca Edwards
Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past eight. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month poring over crime reports and spotting trends. Her safety expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more. You can find her expert advice and analysis in places like TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, NPR, HGTV, MSN, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, and an ever-growing library of radio and TV clips.

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