Written by Doctor G

“I don’t need a booster. Can’t I sit up front?” Get the facts.

Older kids, Car seats. Does it go by height or weight? When can they stop using a booster with a back? When can they stop using a backless booster. I just let my son stop, because he is finally over 70 pounds. My sisters daughter is 10, she is the same height as me, weighs much less. She is sitting in the front seat. Am I right? Or is my son right, and I am a crazy over protective mother? You get so much information about baby & toddler car seats. People stop educating you when your kids age.

Laura, in Pennsylvania

What an important question! Not that last one – if you’re a crazy overprotective mother, you can’t tell by this question (your son’s opinion notwithstanding!).

Infant and toddler seats are based mostly on weight (although height plays a role). For booster and front seat decisions, the issue is height and age, and most parents are unsure about the guidelines, Laura. You’re not alone!

Booster seats save kids in two ways. First of all, they provide back and neck support in a crash. Even more importantly, they make the seat belt fit correctly so that the bones and organs inside the body are protected. All the recommendations I am about to mention are fully endorsed by the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Laws vary state to state but if you follow these you can’t go wrong, and will be obeying the law as well.

Out of toddler seat, into booster:
Lower age limit: 4 years old.
Height: when your child’s shoulders are above the top harness slots OR his ears are above the back of the seat.

Backless booster depends on the car, as well as the child:
Car: has seat and/or head rest that is taller than your child

Child: tall enough that (even when slouching) the shoulder strap of the seatbelt hits her shoulder and never her neck or throat.

Out of a booster and into just a lap/shoulder seat belt:
Lower age limit: 8 years old
Height: when your child is 4 feet 9 inches tall.
NOT when your child is old enough to beg and plead and fuss that he isn’t a baby. Your toddler didn’t like his car seat, and you strapped him in anyway, right?

Sitting in the front seat:
Lower age limit: 13 years old
Height: At least 4 feet 9 inches tall.

Why can’t a big 11 year old sit up front? His skeleton is not ready for the impact of airbag or dashboard in the same way as the skeleton of a (smaller) adult is.

The BIGGEST KILLER of children between the ages of 4 and 16 is motor vehicle accidents. And for every child that is killed each year in a car accident, there are another 18 that are hospitalized after a crash.

I know kids hate this. They want more proof that they are growing up. Don’t cave in to the whining, pleading or demanding. Be firm and save their lives. Even if it isn’t your child, imagine how you’d feel if anything happened to a kid in your car.

Please, spread the word.

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14 thoughts on ““I don’t need a booster. Can’t I sit up front?” Get the facts.”

  1. Good guidelines.. what happens in a truck?.. a truck with only a front seat or car without a back seat.. both of these situations make me nervous. Or.. even better (eer worse?).. when we had three little ones and then a new baby. I know that there are no prefect solutions and you have to start with the state law and then get better than that but some situations are vexing.

    For the record we strapped in all three toddlers across the back seats into their carseats and then the baby was in the front with the air bag disabled. We bought a bigger car 2 weeks later!.. Suburban with three rows!


    1. Maddie, you did exactly the right thing. The front seat with the airbag disabled can be a safe alternative for a rear-facing infant seat in that situation. Congrats on the new vehicle!

      1. I am in a tight financial situation, 2 months away from having my 4th child I just crashed my van last week, I have a car but I am wondering if it is illegal to have any of my children sit in the front passenger. I am really worried and stressing over it. If one of them is able to sit in the front, who is the best canidate? I have a 4 year old a 2 year old and a one year old and am 2 months from having a newborn. I live in pa.. does anyone know the actual law?

        1. According to the PA website – as far as I can tell- you can have a child in the front seat if the air bag is turned off or if there is no air bag, but they still must be in a safety seat. The best way to know who would be safest there is to talk to your local police department. It may be that the youngest is safest there in a rear facing infant seat, but I do NOT know that for sure!! I wish you an easy labor and great delivery and safety and health for all of you.

  2. We too have a child 6 yo ride in the front since the back seat in our large van has only a lap belt.

    The local police, within the past year, have checked the vehicle fit and state the front seat with the shoulder strap is the safest. There is a booster, shoulder strap fits well as well as the lap portion, the seat is slid back to maximum spacing from air bag, the head rest/back of the seat are one solid tall unit.

    What would you encourage based upon these two options and research evidence? Agree or disagree?

    1. It sounds like you have been very thorough with your preparations. Is there a way to disable that airbag? There is on most cars though you may have to contact the manufacturer or dealer to learn how.

  3. My 8 year old is always asking to sit up front. I always tell her no but she still tries. Thanks for the info and confirmation that she still has to sit in the back.

    1. Way to go being strong! It is our kids’ job to push the boundaries, and ours to hold firm. Just another way, Jessica, that you show your daughter you over her without letting her run the house!

  4. So…the other day, we drove to the end of our street to pick something up from a neighbor. I let my 8 yo daughter sit in the front. My car is new enough that the airbag is activated by specific weight and did not turn on. It got me to thinking, if airbags are the reason kids should not sit in the front would it be different in a newer car with weight activated airbags. Just thinking out loud..

    1. I understand that reasoning. But the caution about front seats started in the 1970’s (before air bags) when experts saw that the most dangerous seat in a car is that front passenger seat.

  5. I have a gradson who is 13 think he should sit in front sit because he is tall52but he does not sit he reclair in the sit like his father I am scare for him how can we get him to stop reclaiming and get in back

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