When can my child safely ride in the front seat of a car?

When can my child safely ride in the front seat of a car?

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In almost every case, don't let your child ride in the front seat until he's at least 13 years old — and passenger safety organizations such as SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A. go even further and recommend keeping your child in the backseat until he's old enough to drive himself. Several states have laws requiring children to sit in the back until a certain age, so be sure to check the law in your state.

Riding in the front seat simply isn't as safe as riding in the back. Buckling a child into the backseat instead of the front reduces his risk of being killed in a crash by a third. In a head-on crash (the most common — and deadly — type of collision), a child in the front seat can be thrown into your car's dashboard or through the windshield. Even if he's properly buckled in, he's at much greater risk of being hurt by objects intruding into the car in the front than in the back.

What's more, passenger air bags inflate with such force that they can cause severe head and neck injuries to a child. Nationwide, more than a hundred children have been killed by air bags in recent years, and many of these deaths were in slow-speed collisions that should have been minor. Infants and toddlers in rear-facing car seats are at extreme risk from air bags when placed in the front seat because the back of their car seat is so close to the dashboard.

If, despite these very real dangers, you absolutely must put a non-rear-facing child in the front seat, turn off your car's air bag if it has an on-off switch. If your car doesn’t have an on-off switch, you can get one installed. You’ll need to visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website for details on deactivating side bags and a required permission form.

If you can't disable your passenger air bag, then have the child who's most securely restrained in a front-facing car seat with a full harness (in other words, the child who's least likely to wiggle out of his restraints, or, if your passengers have all moved out of the car seat phase, your biggest or tallest passenger) ride in the front seat, and move his seat as far back from the dashboard as possible.

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