My three older girls race to my car as soon as they see it in the car pool line.

Are they excited to see me? Probably not. I’m the mom who scoffs at their requests to stop at Sonic on the way home (a bold move on my part considering I probably have a Sonic cup in my car from a stop earlier in the day).

No, they are engaging in the time honored tradition of fighting over who gets to sit in the front seat.

The honor goes to the first one to arrive and the rest are relegated to climb over the sports equipment, shoes, toys, and art supplies that litter the floor of my SUV and find a seat in the back of the bus.

My brother-in-law Kipp asked me a great question recently about kids and the front seat. How old do kids have to be ride in the front seat?

Like a lot of things in life, there is a difference between what you CAN do and what you SHOULD do.

When can your kid LEGALLY ride in the front seat?

The answer to this one really surprised me.

California, Georgia, Hawaii, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Tennessee laws require children to be in the rear seat properly restrained until age 8.

Delaware law doesn’t allow children to sit in the front seat until they are 12 years old or 65″ tall.

Maine law doesn’t allow children to sit in the front seat until the child is age 12 or 100 pounds.

Washington law doesn’t allow children to sit in the front seat of the car until age 13.

Puerto Rico law requires children to remain in the back seat of the car until age 12.

Everywhere else? No laws on where in the vehicle a child is required to ride (other than laws that require small children to ride in a car seat or booster seat and prohibit installing such seats in the front seat if there is a passenger air bag).

When SHOULD you allow your kids to ride in the front seat?

So legally in most parts of the country you can allow your kid to ride in the front seat as soon as she has outgrown the booster seat law (typically age 8 and 4″9″).

But just because you can, should you?


Just because we all managed to survive the ’70s and ’80s riding wherever we wanted to in cars doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

I have fond memories of riding on the “rear deck” (the space directly below the window behind the back seat in a car) with my buddy Leah when her mom would drive us home from preschool.

The science is pretty clear on this. The back seat is the safest place for children. Heck, it’s the safest place for anyone regardless of age, height, or weight. Why? Most crashes occur in the front of the car and the back seat is the furthest from the point of impact.

Another reason you don’t want a kid siting in the front seat? Air bags were designed for a man who weighs at least 140 pounds wearing a seat belt. Someone weighing less or shorter than that runs the risk of being seriously injured by an airbag.

What’s the recommendation? A recent multi-year study by the American Academy of Pediatrics in trauma rooms throughout the country concluded that children under 13 who are sitting in the front seat receive far more traumatic and fatal injuries than the same age group of children riding in the back seat.

So there you have it. The magic number is 13.

My 8 year old and my 10 year old now have their Uncle Kipp to thank for their demotion to the back of the bus (at least until they turn 13).

Copyright © 2019 by Siobhán Fitzpatrick Kratovil. All Rights Reserved.