Many kids will quickly start asking to ride in the front seat of the car, and it may seem like there’s no real harm in letting them ride in the front as long as they have a seat belt on. However, there are legal restrictions and safety precautions that need to be followed before deciding whether or not a child should ride in the front seat.
Tennessee State Law
Each state has their own laws about child safety in motor vehicles that can cover anything from age ranges, safety equipment, height, weight and front or back seat placement. Tennessee’s state laws explain that children one year old or younger or 20 pounds or less must be properly secured in a rear-facing child safety seat. Between the years of one and three or above 20 pounds they can be in either a front or rear-facing safety seat. Between the ages of four and eight and less than four feet and nine inches tall children are legally allowed to stop using a child safety seat and start using a booster seat. After that, children are to adhere to the same seat belt and car safety laws as adults.
Tennessee does not have any laws about when children should be placed in the front or back seat, but other states may have laws that cover this topic. If you cross into other states with your child, make sure to check their laws on the subject before allowing your child to ride in the front seat.
Basic Guidelines for Children
The rule of thumb in most situations is to wait until a child is at least 13 years old before allowing them to ride in the front seat. This is due to the fact that many children are at a proper height to allow the seat belt to be effective at the age of 13. Some people also suggest waiting until the child is at least 15 or 16 years old as this better ensures that the child will meet the height requirements for an adult seat belt.
In general, it’s simply safer for a child to ride in the back seat than the front. Even with safety devices, a child is at a higher risk of colliding with the dashboard or hitting the windshield in the event of a crash when riding in the front seat. In the back seat, the child will most likely only hit the seat in front of them, which isn’t nearly as damaging as the dashboard or windshield and even has some cushioning to soften the blow.
If your child is heavy enough to activate the air bag system for their side of the car, their height may pose a significant safety risk. When an air bag deploys and a small child is in the front seat, the force of the air bag may cause severe injuries to the head and neck of the child, which could result in death. Babies and infants riding in rear-facing car seats in the front suffer from the worse blows from the air bag as the back of the seats rest against the area where the air bag deploys.
If you absolutely need to have a child in the front seat, ensure they are securely fastened in whatever safety device they are required to be in or that their seat belt is properly securely if they do not require a child safety device. Ensure that the child is facing forward and sitting up straight. Don’t allow them to play with their safety device. Finally, shut off the air bag system on your child’s side of the car if possible.