Car Laws & Safety

When Can a Child Sit in the Front Seat in Illinois?

My 6-year-old daughter loves to climb into the front seat before we take off to run errands. Something about it makes her feel “big” and independent. I gently remind her she needs to climb back into her seat so she can be safe…and with a sigh and a roll of her eyes, she climbs into the back. So, when can a child sit in the front seat?

In Illinois, if the child is over 8 years old, and being driven by an adult, they are legally allowed to ride in the front seat. This is indirectly mandated by the Illinois Child Passenger Protection Act.

However, this is not a safe option. There are many factors to consider outside of age such as the height and weight of the child, maturity of the child, who is in the driver seat, and where the seat belt lies on the child. 

Airbags in the front are extremely dangerous to children because of the force…most children would not be able to handle the impact and for that reason, it is recommended to wait to have children sit in the front seat until after they are 13 years old.

How much do you have to weigh to sit in the front seat in Illinois?

There is no law mandating a certain weight limit to be able to sit in the front seat in Illinois. As far as safety is concerned, according to the American Pediatrics Academy, you should not go by the weight of the child. It is rather based on a combination of age and how the seat belt fits on your child.

How tall do you have to be to sit in the front seat?

Again, there is no law mandating how tall you must be to sit in the front seat. It is a grey area as far as the law is concerned.

They tiptoe around setting guidelines for height, weight, and age, and rather refer parents to follow the guidelines from the car seat manufacturer.

Most car seat technicians recommend waiting to ditch the car seat/booster seat until:

  • Their back rests against the seat back
  • The lap belt rests across the top of the child’s thighs and not the belly.
  • The shoulder belt stays center and rested between the shoulder and neck.
  • The child can stay seated in an upright position for the length of the car trip.

Recommendations from the American Pediatrics Academy do not even touch the topic of height. They state that it is best to keep them in the back seat until they are 13 years old for the best protection.

Is it illegal for a 10-year-old to ride in the front seat?

It is not illegal for a 10-year-old to ride in the front seat in Illinois. Legally speaking, there is not a concrete age limit for the front seat in Illinois law. Many would argue that it is very dangerous to allow a 10-year-old to sit in the front.

One of the top reasons for this is because of airbags. While meant to keep adults safe, they can cause severe harm and even death in children while sitting in the front seat.

Airbags are installed in the front of all vehicles manufactured today, and therefore become an extreme safety concern for children under the age of 13 due to the force that they exude when deployed.

An American Pediatric Physician Shannon Dowler noted “In fact, because children’s bone density is not the same as adults’, the front airbags can even lead to more damage for children. So as parents, we have to make the call to keep them in the back seat.”

See also
Should a Car Seat be Replaced After an Accident

How old do you have to be to sit in the front seat?

There is no law mandating the age required to sit in the front seat in Illinois. The law states that children over the age of 8 must be secured in a proper seat belt or child restraint system and to follow the car seat manufacturers guidelines.

Assuming your child has outgrown the booster seat manufacturer’s guidelines, they could legally sit in the front seat, although this is not the safest option.

Does it matter who is driving?

In the state of Illinois, if a driver is under the age of 18, they may only have 1 passenger under the age of 20 riding with them for the first year. However, if they have a parent or guardian with them, they can bring along more people.

In regard to having a child in the front seat with a minor at the wheel, although not illegal, I would highly discourage it. Children can be incredibly distracting, and for a new driver this could cause an easy accident. It is best to keep the child in the back seat or let a more experienced driver take the wheel.

Illinois car seat laws and recommendations 2021

-Children under age 2 must be rear-facing or until they reach 40 pounds, or 40 inches tall.
-Children over 2, or who outgrew their rear facing car seat, should use a forward-facing car seat with a harness up to the highest weight and height recommended by the car seat manufacturer.

-Children who outgrow their forward-facing seat should use a belt positioning booster seat until the car’s seat belt fits appropriately.

-Parents are responsible for providing a child restraint system regardless of who the driver is.

-Any person transporting a child is responsible for appropriately securing the child.

-8 years or older but under 16 must be secured in a properly adjusted and fastened seat belt or child restraint system.

-Children over 40lbs can be seated in the back seat with a lap or shoulder belt.

-Under the age of 8 years old, must be in an appropriate seat belt secured by an adult.

How much is the fine for your child sitting in the front seat?

In Illinois, the first fine is $75. If you have a repeat violation, the fine goes up to $200. You could also be arrested. Police officers have and will continue to make arrests to the driver for this happening if they spot a child not properly secured.

Why should you not let your child ride in the front seat?

A direct quote from the Illinois General Assembly finds that “a substantial number of passengers under the age of 8 years riding in motor vehicles, which are most frequently operated by a parent, annually die or sustain serious physical injury as a direct result of not being placed in an appropriate child passenger restraint system.”

Car accidents are the leading cause of death for children ages 4-14.

See also
Importance of Car Seat Head Support [Infant & Toddler]

This alone is convincing to keep your child in the rear for as long as possible.

“The General Assembly further finds that the safety of the motoring public is seriously threatened as indicated by the significant number of traffic accidents annually caused, directly or indirectly, by driver distraction or other impairment of driving ability induced by the movement or actions of unrestrained passengers under the age of 8 years.”

There have been many studies on airbag safety for children. Sitting in the front and getting into even a minor accident will likely cause the airbags to deploy. Front airbags are designed to protect an adult, of at least 5 feet tall and 150 pounds. 

With the force of the airbag, this is extremely dangerous for a younger child. Children’s bones and ligaments are still growing and are not strong enough to handle the impact from front airbag deployment.

Where is the safest place your child should sit?

The back seat is the safest place for a child to sit. If your child is rear-facing in a car seat, the safest seat would be in the middle seat (granted that it is a full-size seat with the appropriate seat anchors or has a locking seat belt).

If your child is forward-facing or in a booster, the back seat is still the safest. You can get your car seat evaluated by a car seat technician. If you are unsure who to contact to do this, connect with your local fire department and they will be able to provide you with information on how to get in touch with them.

If your child has outgrown a booster seat, the safest place is still in the back seat of the car. Most children do not fully develop their bones and ligaments until they are over 13 years old.

In summary, no matter how much begging and pleading your child does, know that it is safest to wait as long as possible to make the move from the back of the car to the front. This lets their body develop further in order to withstand the impact of a possible airbag deployment. 

Welcome to my car seat blog! As a mom of 3, I put together with other hard-working moms a highly informative one-stop car seat resource, full with many reviews and buyer guides. I hope you find it invaluable. Thank you for trusting me & my team! - Keren