At What Age Should Kids Ride in the Front Seat?

Kids and tweens need to stick it out in the backseat until at least their teenage years. (Photo: Zurijeta/Shutterstock)

Car accidents are the No. 1 cause of death for kids in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). So asking the question above is a more logical question that you might think. Parents need to be on top of safety when it comes to riding in the car. When kids are little, there is lots of guidance about when babies should be rear-facing and what types of car seats work best for toddlers and children. But what about when kids grow out of car seats and start eyeing the front of the car?

What does the government say?

The magic age, according to the CDC, is 12. Kids younger than that should be buckled up in the back seat, either in car seats or boosters or with the car's safety harness, depending on their age. The reasoning is that air bags in the front seat can kill smaller children.

A new bill in Massachusetts takes things one step further. If it passes, state Senate bill 1848 would make it illegal for kids younger than 13 to sit up front. The penalty for breaking the law would be a $25 fine — not a huge fee, but proponents of the bill say that it's enough to draw awareness to the issue.

Controversial Laws

Safety issues aside, some argue that the bill is just another form of big government overstepping its boundaries. They point out the reasons why it may not always be feasible to have all kids under 13 in the backseat. For instance, what if you're driving a pickup truck that doesn't have a backseat? Or if you have a carload of tweenagers and need one of them to sit up front?

Some passenger safety organizations, such as SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A., advocate for even greater restraint when it comes to sitting up front, suggesting that children should continue to ride in the back seat until they are ready to drive themselves.

Things to keep in mind

So when should your child be allowed to ride in the front seat of the car? That depends on two things: the laws in your state and your comfort level. While most states require that children sit in the back at least until age 12, some like Massachusetts have the minimum age set closer to 13, while others, like Georgia, allow kids to sit in the front seat by age 8. Know your state's law before you make your decision.

But also keep in mind what works best for you and your family. The backseat is the safest place for kids to ride. So it makes sense to keep them back there as long as possible before you cave and let them ride up front. But if you have more kids than backseats, that's not always practical. In the end, you have to make the choice that's right for your family.