Recent changes to published guidelines for “How old kids need to be to sit in the front seat of a car” have caused confusion and concern among parents who remain unclear about the differences between the laws and guidelines, and the impact on their children and family. In addition to this confusion, the difference in safety requirements in just the space of a generation is very significant.
Historical knowledge regarding car seats is not trustworthy, as parents and grandparents today will have experienced very different standards in their own childhood. American cars weren’t even universally required to have seat belts until 1966, let alone the specifically tiered safety seat systems we have today. All the advancement in knowledge and improvement in products that has occurred has resulted in a difficult answer to a seemingly simple question.
When Can a Child Sit in the Front Seat in Texas?
Texas law does not specify when a child can sit in the front seat of a car. The law related to kids riding in the front seat only requires that child safety seats must be used according to manufacturer instructions. Further, the law requires that children under the age of 8 and under the height of 4’9” be secured in child passenger safety seat systems.
Child Safety in Motor Vehicles
The Laws Regarding Children Sitting in Cars, the Guidelines, and the Differences Between Them
In the United States and in Texas specifically, the information distributed about child seating in motor vehicles has caused much confusion. In large part, this is due to the fact that guidelines have been set for these standards, as opposed to more consequential regulations or laws.
Additional guidelines added to these baselines, state-imposed legal requirements are published by organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Birth to 2 years: All infants and toddlers should be in rear-facing car seats until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the car seat manufacturer. Most children should stay in a rear-facing seat until 2 years of age, or longer if they’re of smaller length or weight than is average. Further, in Texas you cannot place a child in a rear-facing seat in the front seat of a car with a passenger airbag.
2 to 4 years: Once the child has reached the recommended weight and height by the car seat instructions, they can move to a front-facing seat. The average child can move to a front-facing seat at over 2 years of age, and some child seats allow them to remain until they exceed as much as 65 pounds. Check what the safety seat manufacturer recommends for your child seat.
4 to 8 years: Children should be sitting in booster seats until the maximum height or weight limit is reached, as specified by the safety seat manufacturer. Your child can move to a booster seat by 4 years of age, or once they exceed 4 feet in height.
8 years and older: Once weight and height requirements for booster seats have been passed, children can sit in the car seats designed for adults. Your child can stop using a booster seat between 8 to 12 years of age, once they exceed 4 feet 9 inches in height. In essence, booster seats should be used until your child can safely and securely wear an adult seat belt, with both the lap and shoulder belts in a comfortable position.
13 years old: Children may sit in the front seat with a seat belt if their height and weight have passed the booster seat limits.
If the endangerment to child passengers by neglecting to use or misusing child safety seats is not motivation enough, fines and jail time may add additional motivation to follow the law. Offenses under the Child Passenger Safety Seat Systems portion of Texas Occupant Restraint laws will always result in a fine, and these fines can climb to $250 dollars, plus court costs. Noncompliance with safety requirements for children can result in child endangerment charges for the driver.
Types of Seats and Safety Devices for Kids
Proper installation of car safety seats is extremely important. Be sure to review manufacturer instructions for the seat and confirm that the method with which it straps into your vehicle is compatible. When securing the seat and the child in it, ensure that all straps are tightened to the proper tension, the seat components are latched securely and correctly, there are no dangling or improperly place pieces, and any other applicable settings are correct.
Rear Facing Seat: These seats are designed to be appropriate from the age up birth up to approximately 2 years, or whenever the child reaches 40 lbs. There are two versions of these car seats, infant-only and convertible. Keeping kids in rear-facing seats for as long as possible should be the goal, as it is the safest way to ride. Many manufacturers are designing these types of seats with a forty-pound weight limit, easily allowing children to continue riding in these seats past their second birthday.
Front Facing Seat: These seats are designed to account for the optimal safety of a child who has outgrown the weight and height limits for a rear-facing seat. Many manufacturers offer models that can be turned around and have removable or adjustable pieces in order to accommodate growing kids.
Booster Seat: These seats are designed to provide additional support for smaller bodies in the car’s adult seats, and work with the car’s safety belts. There are varieties of booster seats available, but they are typically designed for use until about age 8 or a height of 4’9”.
Adult Seats: After children have reached the age of 8, and/or exceeded the top height and weight limits for their booster seat, they can sit in the car seats alone. Children should remain in the backseat until at least the age of 13. Most cars are equipped with this information as a reminder on visors or other places in the vehicle, particularly in regard to the danger that front airbags pose to children, teenagers, and other smaller or younger bodies.
Seat Belts: Built-in seat belts are designed for adults, but once a child reaches a height of at least 4’9” they are tall enough for the seat belt design to be effective for their safety. Seat belts are one of the most effective safety measures in modern vehicles, and wearing one improves survival rates for front-seat passengers in auto wrecks by 50%. Belts should be worn fitted to the body, with the lap belt across the hips and shoulder belt across the front center of the chest and over the shoulder. All automobile passengers are legally required to wear seat belts Texas. The increased safety they provide for all passengers is inarguable.
Tips for Child Car Seats
Entering a roadway always involves an element of risk, and nothing clarifies this more than traveling with children in the car. However, there are some steps you can take to mitigate this risk and to protect your loved ones. Here are a few recommendations for things to do before, during, and after the use of a car seat:
Be sure to replace child safety seats that have been in a crash, as the structural integrity of the seat and its components may have been compromised.
Check for product recalls with car seats, particularly when taking a car seat out of storage after a duration of time, or buying a used model, even from someone you trust. Manufacturers of car seats frequently provide expiration dates for their seats, often ranging from 6 to 8 years from the date of fabrication.
Makes sure car seats are strapped securely in with the appropriate belt OR latch method. Check that all components are uncompromised, in good working order, and are in the correct placement prior to starting or moving your vehicle.
Many manufacturers produce videos that can be accessed on their websites or YouTube with step by step tutorials for proper installation.
In very hot climates like Texas, check that the car seat components have not been compromised or damaged by the heat. Also, before securing your baby in the seat, check the temperature of the car seat pieces, including straps and buckles, to avoid burns.
Always wear your own seatbelt. Model this safe behavior for the kids in your car to see, every time you drive.
Injuries to Children in Auto Accidents
Children can be particularly susceptible to impact injuries, as their skeletal system is not done growing. Infants are born with about 300 separate bones, and the process of development and fusion resulting in the approximate 206 bones of a human adult takes place until growth stops, around age 25. Tragically, beyond the potential for serious injuries being sustained, over 85 children under the age of 12 have died in car accidents, every year for the past 5 years, with the most fatalities totaling 106 in 2014. A considerable portion of these outcomes could have been different with appropriate safety seat and restraint use.
If your child has been hurt in a motor vehicle accident, do not hesitate to take every measure necessary to ensure their full recovery physically and emotionally. Any necessary surgeries, treatments, medications, and therapies advised by your healthcare professionals should be carefully followed. You can focus on what is important while your team helps with everything else.
Thompson Law Cares for the Safety of Your Children
At Thompson Law, we understand the value of family. Nothing is more important and prescient than keeping your loved ones as safe as possible in vulnerable situations, such as on the roadway. When accidents happen, and especially when they result in injury to your children, you deserve help handling the aftermath.
Attorney Ryan Thompson and his experienced team of legal experts have handled a wide variety of cases involving children injured in motor vehicle and other accidents. The robust litigation experience and compassionate handling of your claim sets this group of attorneys apart. The Thompson Law approach results in life-changing settlements for our clients.
If you or your family have been injured in an accident, the time to contact Thompson Law is now. Allow yourself and your loved ones your full attention in the process of healing and recovery, as Thompson Law takes on the at-fault parties and big insurance companies, fighting for the justice and compensation you deserve.
Contact the injury lawyers at Thompson Law by calling us, anytime 24/7 for a free consultation and review of your case.
Frequently Asked Questions – Child Safety and Seat Belt Use
What are the car seat laws in Texas?
Texas has no law which specifies how old a child has to be to sit in the front seat of a car. The law related to children sitting in the front seat of a car in Texas specifies that a child be secured during the operation of a vehicle in a child passenger safety seat system according to the manufacturer’s instructions, unless the child is over four feet, 9 inches tall or 8 years of age or older (TRANSP § 545.412).
Most car seat manufacturers recommend keeping children 12 and under in the back seat, and not allow them to ride in the front seat at younger ages. Further, rear-facing child car seats may not be used in the front seat of a car if the car is equipped with airbags.
Can a child sit on your lap in a car?
Texas law prohibits a child sitting in your lap while a motor vehicle is in operation. In Texas, the law states every passenger must use a seat belt in a moving vehicle. The penalty for adults violating this law is fines and court costs of up to $200. Children under 8 years and less than 4’9″ must be in a child safety or booster seat, or the driver faces fines of up to $250. Children are never allowed to sit on your lap in a moving vehicle.
When can a child sit forward facing?
Children can ride in a forward facing car seat once they are 1 year old AND weigh at least 20 pounds. However, you should keep your child in a forward facing seat as long as the manufacturer says it is safe to do so, as sitting rear facing is safer for children in the even of a motor vehicle accident.
How tall does a kid have to be to sit in the front seat in Texas?
A child must be over 4’9″ to sit in the front seat of a car in Texas. Once a child is over 4’9″, kids can sit in the front seat of a car in Texas using a lap or shoulder seat belt. However, children less than 13 years should never ride in the front seat of any vehicle with active airbags on the passenger side.
At what age can a child just use a seat belt?
In Texas, kids can use a seat belt only once they are 8 years of age or older. The National Safety Council recommends that a child also be over 4’9″ tall, weigh more than 80 pounds, and be over 12 years before riding in the front seat, although Texas law does not require it.
What is the penalty for violating Texas car seat laws?
If a parent or guardian allows a child who is too young and/or too short to ride in the front seat of a car in Texas, it is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine between $25 to $200 according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. However, if the person is operating the vehicle in an emergency or for law enforcement purposes, that can be used as a defense to prosecution for a child riding in the front seat.
What is the right car seat for my child?
The four stages of car seat use are rear-facing car seats, forward-facing car seats, booster seats, and seatbelts. These four recommended stages of child passenger safety can be broken down as follows:
- Rear-facing car seats: Infants should remain rear-facing for as long as possible and never be forward facing before turning 1 years old and weighing 20 to 22 pounds. Rear-facing car seats should not be used in the front seat of a car with airbags.
- Forward-facing car seats: Toddlers should sit forward-facing in a five-point harness until exceeding the manufacturer’s max weight recommendation, which is typically 40-65 pounds.
- Booster seats: Booster seats can be used for most children from about age 4 up to 4’9″ tall, depending on their weight.
- Adult safety belts: Children 8 or older or 4’9″ (i.e., 57 inches) or taller may use adult safety belts without any car seat.
Do car seat laws vary by state?
Yes, laws related to car seat usage vary by state in the US. Every state and territory in the United States requires child safety seats for infants and children fitting specific criteria. However, the requirements for each state vary based on age, weight and height.
For example, in California a car seat is required to be rear-facing for children under 2 years old, unless the child weighs 40 or more pounds or is 40 or more inches tall. Similar to Texas, California requires car or booster seats for children under 8 years and less than 57 inches tall, and also requires the car seat be in the back seat of the car.
If you are going on a road trip and need to know the car seat laws for other states, or do not know the car seat law in your state, you can see here for child passenger seat belt laws by state.
How do I know if I am using a car seat correctly?
In addition to carefully reviewing the manufacturer’s guidelines, you can contact a certified child safety seat technician. A child passenger safety (CPS) technician can check to ensure you installed your car seats correctly, and teach you how properly install and use a car seat on your own. They can also discuss with you when it is safe for a child to ride in the front seat of a car.
When can a child sit in a booster seat?
Ages four to eight: Booster seats should be used between 4 and 8 years of age for children over 40 pounds and less than 4 feet 9 inches tall. Booster seats were designed to be used when a child reached 40 pounds, typically around age 4 to 5. Kids who are heavier or taller than the limits for a forward facing car seat should switch to a belt-positioning booster seat.
If your child exceeds 40 pounds before the age of 4, they would be better protected using a five-point harness in a child seat with a higher maximum weight. Please be sure to consider the child’s age, weight, height, and behavioral maturity before moving them to a booster seat, as well.
Is it against the law to allow a child to ride in the front seat of a car?
Texas law allows children to ride in the front seat of a car, unless the car seat is rear-facing and the vehicle has a passenger airbag. The law does not specify where children can ride in vehicles; rather, it only states that child seats be used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. If you follow these guidelines, Texas occupant restraint laws state it is legal to allow a child to ride in the front seat of a car in Texas.
Do car seats expire?
Yes, car seats expire 6 to 10 years from the date of manufacture. The manufacture date is required to be placed on all car seats. It can typically be found on a sticker that provides the serial number, manufacture date, and expiration date, or molded into the shell on the back of the seat. If you are unable to locate the manufacture or expiration date on a car seat, you should assume it expires at 6 years. Car seat manufacturers in the US are not required to provide an expiration date, although most do so today.
Why do car seats expire?
Car seats expire for a variety of reasons, such as the plastic becoming brittle, changing regulations and recalls, wear and tear, and the outer limits testing the expected useful life of a car seat. While most states do not have laws prohibiting the use of an expired car seat and their is no regulation prohibiting it, the NHTSA highly recommends replacing expired car seats if parents can afford to do so.
How do I know if a car seat is recalled?
There are several ways you can tell if your child’s car seat is being recalled:
- Contact the manufacturer of the car seat on the internet or via phone
- Check the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website for car seat recalls
- Contact a child passenger safety (CPS) technician.
Can you use a car seat after an accident?
The NHTSA recommends that car seats be replaced after a moderate or severe crash. This is intended to ensure a continued high level of crash protection for children in a potential future car accident. Car seats do not need to be replaced following minor crashes.
The NHTSA defines a minor crash as a collision in which all of these apply:
- The vehicle was able to be driven away from the accident site
- No damage was done to the door nearest the car seat
- No occupants in the car sustained injuries
- No airbags deployed
- No visible damage to the car seat
If you or your child have been injured in an accident, call Thompson Law today for a FREE CONSULTATION. We charge NO FEE unless we are able to obtain a settlement behalf of you or your injured child.