Can I Sit in Front?
Kids. At least inside a car their station in life was so much simpler when they were babies. Tucked away in their cradle in a rear facing position, you knew they were safe and that you had done the right thing. And the babies knew it as well, never have I heard a baby complain in that position but for an occasional cry for a diaper change. Even when they outgrew the cradle, they were still fastened in that 5-point harness contraption that left no room for argument as to where you belonged.
Then came the weird half-booster seats: the not quite 5-point harness but a half seat that looked disconcertingly uncomfortable and which you were all too happy to dispense with when your kids could be fastened with a normal seat belt. Then comes the inevitable question: Uh Dad, can I sit in front?
Now if this question was asked by a teenager who eats 5 times a day and who threatens to loom over you, you have little hesitation in answering yes. But this question always comes at that age of 10 – 14 years old, when you’re not sure if you should answer yes or no. This conundrum is confounded further when you answer “no” and the child naturally asks, “Why not?”
At this point the parents have to take refuge in the child seat belt law. In reading various state laws, it is important to remember that while the law provides age limits and height restrictions, many laws require all children to ride in the rear seat whenever possible.
The child passenger restraint law varies by state and also based on age, weight and height. Usually, there are three stages of child passenger restraint: infants use rear-facing infant seats; toddlers use forward-facing child safety seats; and older children use booster seats. To summarize the laws in the DC-Northern Virginia Area:
In Virginia, the child seat belt law is found in Va. Code §46.2-1096 et seq., which states that any child up to 8 years old must be fastened in an appropriate child restraint device, placed in a rear seat, and in a rear facing position. If you don’t have a rear seat in your car, you can place the child in front but only with the front airbag disabled. The law states that any child under 18 years old must be properly secured with a child restraint consisting of lap belts, shoulder harnesses, combinations thereof or similar devices. For more information, see Virginia Motor Vehicle website at http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/livewell/programs/cps/documents/CPS%20Flip%20Chart.pdf
In Maryland, the child seat belt law is found in Transportation Article 22-412.2 (Child Restraints), which requires children under 8 years old to ride in an appropriate child restraint, unless the child is 4’9” or taller or weighs more than 65 pounds. In addition, every child from 8 to 16 years old who is not secured in a child restraint must be secured in the vehicle’s seat belt and this law is applicable to in-state and out-of-state vehicles. For more information, see Maryland Department of Transportation, State Highway Transportation at http://www.dmv.org/md-maryland/safety-laws.php.
In District of Columbia, the child seat belt law is found in Title 50, Chapter 17, Child Restraint, which states that any child of less than 3 years of age must be properly restrained in a child restraint seat. Any child under 8 years of age shall be properly seated in an installed infant, convertible (toddler) or booster child safety seat, according to the manufacturer’s instructions and a booster seat shall only be used with both a lap and shoulder belt. Furthermore, any child under 16 years of age must be properly restrained in an approved child safety restraint system or restrained in a seat belt. For more information, see DC Child Safety Belt Program at http://mpdc.dc.gov/page/dcs-child-restraint-law.
Now the above may be a lot of legalese and you still come out unsure about when to place a child in the front seat. I think the safe answer is, don’t put your child in the front seat unless he/she is 16 or older. I like illustrations. I found this web link while researching this article and thought you might appreciate it (it gives a nice illustration of how a child should look in seat belts): http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/livewell/programs/cps/documents/CPS%20Flip%20Chart.pdf
Child seat belt is serious business. While your child may think he/she is all grown up and ready to sit next to you, when in doubt as to whether you should, the answer is probably you shouldn’t.