Parents generally know that car seats belong in the back seat. Despite this, many parents find reasons why they need to place it in the front. Watching your baby closely while you drive, a back seat full of groceries or not having a back seat can make the front seem like a valid option. In situations where you feel justified to place the car seat up-front, it is important to know if there will be legal ramifications.
Importance of Restraint Laws
The California Highway Patrol reports that 80 percent of car-crash related fatalities that were children under the age of 4 could have been prevented if they had been properly restrained. Statistics like these are why so many states and law enforcement agencies actively enforce restraint laws. Actively enforcing these laws means more people follow them and fewer children are injured or killed, according to Safety BeltSafe U.S.A.
State Laws Vary
State laws on safety and car seats varies. All states have these laws, but they vary based on age, height and weight of the child. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children under 4 feet 9 inches be restrained; this generally includes children under 13 years old. California, New Jersey, Michigan, South Carolina, and Georgia require that children in car seats ride in the back seat when available. Puerto Rico requires children under 12 years old ride in the back seat. Find out the specific age, weight and height requirements for your state, and if there are exceptions. In California, for example, if a car seat cannot fit in the back seat or if medical reasons exist, an exception may be made.
If you break the law, you can get a ticket. All states have fines associated with their safety restraint laws. Just as the laws themselves vary, so too do the amount of the fines. As of 2013, fines range from $10 to $500 for first offenses. In California, the fine can be $490 plus one point. In Maine, the first offense is $50, but subsequent tickets can be up to $250 a piece. In Michigan, the fine is only $10. Research the amount in your state so that you are not caught off guard with a hefty fine.
Putting car seats in the back seat is not only a legal issue -- it is also a safety issue. Rear-facing car seats should never be placed in the front seat. Air bags, meant to protect passengers, are a safety hazard to rear-facing car seats and young children who are not properly restrained. Placing a rear-facing car seat in the front seat can result in severe injury or death even in a low-speed crash. If the airbag inflates, it can hit the back of the seat, right in the back of her head.
- HealthyChildren: Car Seats -- Information for Families for 2013
- Fisher Price Parenting Topics: Is the Front Seat Safe for Baby?
- DMV.org: Child Safety Seat Laws -- Buckle Up, Kids!
- Safety Belt Safe USA: Enforcing California Restraint Laws for Children
- Governor's Highway Safety Association: Child Passenger Safety Laws
- Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images