While no law in Pennsylvania states when a child can sit in the front seat, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation recommends that children sit in the back seat until they are at least 13 years old. Additionally, Pennsylvania law states that infants in rear-facing car seats should NEVER ride in the front seat of a car equipped with a passenger-side airbag.

I’ve been a mother for the last ten years, and learning of  Pennsylvania Crash and Facts Statistics  that states that 83% of children restrained in a car seat did not sustain any injury in traffic crashes drastically changed how I viewed car seats and their usefulness in protecting my children.  These statistics clearly correlate the importance of car seat laws and why they should be followed religiously. 

In this article, i will answer the burning question of when can a child sit in the front seat in Pennsylvania? This article covers everything you need to know about the laws governing front seats in Pennsylvania. 

Pennsylvania Front Seat Law

Pennsylvania laws state that children aged 12 and under must ride buckled up in the back seat. It goes further to state that if an older child must sit in the front seat equipped with a passenger-side airbag, they must be put in a front-facing car seat or a booster seat that accommodates the weight of the child, and the seat must be moved back as far back as possible. 

 

The rules above accommodate Pennsylvania’s lack of specific rules for children seated in the front seat. 

Pennsylvania Front Seat Law Requirement 

  • The child must be at least 13 years old. 
  • Must be in a front-facing seat or booster seat. 
  • Front seat must be moved back as far as possible. 

when can a child sit in the front sit in PA

How Can You Make the Front Seat Safer for Your Child?

If your pre-teen is ready for the front seat, but you want to make it safer for them, there are options to help with that. 

First and foremost, move the passenger seat as far back from the airbag as possible to help reduce the risk of airbag impact. The closer a child sits to the dashboard, the more likely they will experience an airbag or dash injury to themselves in a crash.

Secondly, always have your child wear their seatbelt, and always have them wear it correctly. The correct seat belt position has the belt resting against the upper chest, not the neck, and the lap belt should lay across the lap, not the stomach. Do not let children wear only the lap belt with the chest belt behind their back. 

can a 10 year old sit in the front seat in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, the law does not specify a minimum age for children to ride in the front seat of a vehicle. However, it is recommended that children under the age of 13 ride in the back seat, as they are at greater risk of injury from airbags in the front seat.

Additionally, Pennsylvania law requires that all children under the age of 4 or weighing less than 40 pounds must be secured in a child safety seat when riding in a motor vehicle. Children between the ages of 4 and 8, or weighing between 40 and 80 pounds, must be secured in a booster seat. It is always important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the car seat or booster seat, as well as the state’s laws and regulations regarding child passenger safety.

Pennsylvania Car Seat Laws

Rear-Facing (Ages 2 and Under)

For children 2 years of age and younger, parents must have them secured in a rear-facing car seat. A child around 2 years of age who has outgrown the rear-facing car seat, generally once they have reached over 35 lbs in weight, may transition to the next car seat type.

However, PennDOT, the  American Academy of Pediatrics, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommend that children over the age of 2 stays in rear-facing car seats until they outgrow the manufacturer’s max height and weight for the seat model (generally, this is around 35 lbs in weight and 36 inches tall.)

Forward-Facing Seats and Booster Seat (Ages 3 To 8)

Forward-facing car seats and booster seats are not interchangeable. Booster seats are used to lift an older child to the appropriate height for a car’s seat belt to protect the child correctly. Forward-facing car seats use straps nearly identical to rear-facing car seats to protect younger children.

Any child older than 2 that has outgrown the manufacturer’s recommended max height and weight on a rear-facing car seat must remain in a forward-facing car seat or booster seat until at least the age of 8 per Pennsylvania law.

A Special Note On Car Seats Between the Ages of 8 to 12

If a child over the age of 8 is shorter than 4’9’’ and weighs less than 80 lbs, a booster seat is recommended, but not required, for safety reasons.

While a child may be old enough to legally sit out of a car seat, smaller children experience greater risk when not in a booster seat. Again, it is not a requirement, but it does keep children safer than a seatbelt in a crash if they are not the recommended size for using a seatbelt alone. 

How Sitting In The Backseat Protects a Child

Modern airbags release at about 200 mph, a speed that creates a force that can severely injure a child. Unless your 13+ child is 5 ft tall and weighs close to 150 lbs, the front seat is not suitable for them. Sitting in the backseat removes children from the airbag deployment zone, keeping the risk of 200+ mph force well away from the child. 

Additionally, sitting in the backseat removes children from the most common areas of impact in a vehicle. Front-impact crashes are the most common type of car crash, meaning that airbags are more likely to deploy in the case of an accident than not. Being in the backseat keeps children away from the shattering glass, airbags, and blunt force that the front seat experiences during a frontal impact. 

For a final thought on backseat riding, consider what a child can come into contact with during a crash. In the backseat, there’s the passenger or driver seat that they might come in contact with. If a child is sitting in the front seat, they may hit the dash, windshield, or airbag. The backseat simply has fewer risks than the front seat for any passenger, not just a child. 

when can a child sit in the front sit in PA

Are There Exceptions to PA Car Seat Rules?

The age brackets for car seat regulations in Pennsylvania are not bendable. The only exception is if a doctor issues a written certification stating that using a car seat or booster is impractical for the child and explains why. This certification needs keeping in the car in case an officer asks for it. 

But My Child Is Too Long For a Rear-Facing Car Seat – Shouldn’t I Have Them Face the Front Even If They Aren’t 2?

No, only move a child from a rear-facing car seat once they have exceeded the manufacturer’s recommended height and weight limits. Children can always sit cross-legged or up the back of the car’s seat. The leg position does not reduce the efficacy or ability of the car seat to protect the child

But My 6-Year-Old Child Weighs More Than 80 Lbs – Can’t They Leave The Car Seat?

No, if a child is under the age of 8, they must by law remain in a booster seat regardless of weight or height.

But My 7-Year-Old Child Is Over 4’9’’ – Why Can’t They Leave The Car Seat?

If a child under the age of 8 sits out of the car seat, regardless of height, the parent can be issued a citation under Pennsylvania law. 

A Final Note On Graduating Kids to the Front Seat 

When it comes to letting the kids ride up front with the adults, keep the rule of 13 in mind. Never let a child under the age of 13 ride up front, and always consider maintaining children in the backseat even after they hit pre-teen years for safety.

Remember to follow the rules and regulations of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. Their car seat guidelines and seatbelt rules will keep your children safe in the car. 

 

Avatar of Keren Simanova
Author

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