Car Seat Laws

When Can A Child Sit In The Front Seat In California?

Allowing your children to sit in the front seat with you during a drive exposes them to extremely hazardous situations. A lot can go wrong but the most unfortunate is a high risk of getting fatal head injuries.

According To California law, a child can sit in the front seat from the ages of 8 years to 13 years or is up to 4 feet 9 inches. It’s also important how they fit into the grown-up seats and use the adult seat belt (Source).

Are you probably wondering what if a child meets the required age but is not big enough? In this article, you can get all the vital information about when a child can sit in a front-seat.

When Can A Child Sit In The Front Seat In California?

A child in California can legally sit in the front seat from 8 years to 13 years or 4 feet 9 inches. Below is a comprehensive discussion on when a child can sit in front as recommended by reputable agencies. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration endorses that all children ride in the back seat until 13 years.

The association proposes this age because children who sit in front are at a heightened danger of injury from airbag deployment.  Children are usually below the airbag’s height requirements as they are mostly smaller than adults.

California Law On Child Seat Safety

According to the California law on child safety, a child from the age of 8 years can sit in a front seat if;

  1. Your car has no back seats like a truck.
  2. Your car back seats are side-facing foldable seats.
  3. You intend to use a child’s safety belts on side-facing automobile seats.
  4. The child safety harness will not restrain him/her without a booster seat. A booster seat is only secure for a child when used with both a lap and shoulder belt. If your rear seat has only one of the two, your child should sit in the front seat.
  5. You have younger children below the ages of 7 occupying the rear seats.
  6. There is a medical justification that disallows a child from being restrained in the rear seat.

What Should I Look Out For Before Permitting My Child In The Front Seat?

You should consider these three crucial factors before putting your child in a front seat.

Position

The rear seat remains the safest position for everyone to ride in, irrespective of age, height, or weight.

In any event of a front collision, the back seat is farthest from this impact. Parents are strongly advised to consider the safety of their little ones and make sure to use their seat belts.

 Airbags

Car manufacturers design airbags with an adult in mind, so the impact would be too intense for a child. As such, airbags can cause fatal injuries to children below the average approved height.

Visualize the very high speed an airbag would normally deploy and how it will slam into their body and face. Not a pretty picture right? It is widespread knowledge that airbags kill a lot of children yearly.

Most of these fatalities can be avoided by their guardians as they were slow-speed accidents. Older children can sit still for more extended periods and follow instructions to sit away from the deployment area. They are generally mature enough for the airbag.

Bone Development

Kids may appear as big as adults physically, but underneath their skeletal system is still growing. Younger children have iliac crests that are less mature than those of adults. The iliac crest is in the hip bone region, so it keeps seat belts securely set on the hips. 

The under-developed bones can make the seat belt to move up over the body’s mid-area, inducing seat belt syndrome. As children grow, they develop their breast bones or sternum. A mature skeletal system diminishes a child increased risk of injury.

At What Age Can My Child Sit In The Front Seat In California?

By law, children who are up to 8 years and taller than 4″ 9′ can sit in the front seat. However, professionals advise parents to continue using booster seats until the age of 13.

California car seat law requires that any child below two years be secured using seat belts in a rear-facing car seat.

Parents should place the rear-facing car seat in the back seat of the vehicle. If the car has an airbag in the front passenger seat, it is not lawful to have a rear-facing car seat placed there. 

The only time it’s reasonable for a properly secured child to ride in the front seat is if;

  1. It is a two-seater automobile. The two-seater doesn’t have rear seats.
  2. Other younger children are occupying the back seat. Strategize ahead so that you do not have more children than safety harnesses in the back seat. 
  3. Placing the car seat in the rear seat is risky, for example, if the back seat belts are no longer functional. 
  4. The back seats are facing the back or the sides instead of the front of the car.
  5. Your child is tall enough to succeed in wearing a seat belt safely. Please note that it’s still in their best interest to not sit in the front seat. The rear seat remains the safest position for children to ride.

How Do I Know It Is Safe For My Child To Sit In The Front Seat?

There is a five-step rule to confirming your child is ready to move from the rear-seat to the front-seat. It is vital that you, as a parent determine them along with the child. Get the child to sit in front of a parked vehicle, and then secure the seat belt.

  1. Confirm if the seat belt’s shoulder segment settles at the mid-region of his/her chest or mid-shoulder.
  2. Can the child sit upright with his butt touching the seat’s back?
  3. Do the knees arch at the edge of the car seat with their legs on the ground?
  4. Is the lap region of the seat belt positioned across the upper thighs and hips?
  5. Can the child sit still for an extended time?

A child’s inclination to pass this test is majorly dependent on his/her height and car type. Also, be enlightened that an 8year old may not reach 4’9″ until about 10 -12 years. 

A poorly-fit adult harness can cause damage rather than secure the child during a crash. It is right to wait until the child can pass the 5-step test.

Conclusion

A child can sit in a car’s front seat from the ages of 8-13years and a height of 4’9″. A child may be up to the age requirements but may not correctly fit the seat belt.

If other children occupy the rear seat, then the eldest child in the mix must sit in front. It is safer and strongly recommended for all children to sit in the back seat.

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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

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