When Children May Stop Using the Booster or Sit in the Front Seat of the Car

Finally, eliminating the child seat is an important milestone that many children (and their parents) are looking forward to. But jumping in too quickly can put a child at greater risk of injury in an accident – and that could be against the law.

State laws regulate when children are allowed to stop riding in car seats or boosters, and these laws differ from state to state based on age, height, and / or weight. (There’s a good list here if you’re looking to find your state’s car seat law.)

However, even these laws may not be the safest guidelines.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children who are overweight or tall for their car seat in the direction of travel use the optional seat belt retention seat until the car seat belt is properly secured. This usually occurs between the ages of 8 and 12, when they reach 4 feet 9 inches in height.

How do I know if my seat belt is fastened correctly? Use SafeKids.org’s Five-Step Seat Belt Test:

  1. Is the shoulder harness at chest or shoulder height?
  2. Can a child sit with their butt up to the back of the seat?
  3. Do the child’s knees bend at the edge of the seat so that their feet are on the floor?
  4. Is the lap section of the harness over the hips and thighs of the child?
  5. Can the child stay in this position for the entire trip?

Have they already left the booster and are begging to sit in front? Not so fast! Just because they stopped using a child seat does not mean that they are safe in the front seat.

In most cases, 13 years is the safest option, as both size and age are factors that enable a child’s body to better resist impacts in an accident. You can read more about front seat safety here .

This story was originally published in 2015 and has been updated on December 7, 2020 to provide more complete and up-to-date information.

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