Car Seats

Age, Weight and Height for Front Seat

Kate Nash

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A very common question we get here at Safer for Baby is the age, height, and weight recommendation for kids transitioning to use seat belts.

As discussed in a previous guide, seat-belt use is the last stage of car seat safety and should only be done when your child has outgrown the height and weight limit of their current car seat, typically around 8-12 years old. However, age alone is not a good indicator as every child grows at a different rate.

The previous AAP guideline advising children to use a booster seat until reaching a height of at least 4 feet 9 inches before transitioning to a seat belt was updated in 2018. The National Safety Council does not provide a specific height recommendation for the transition to front-seat or seat belt usage as I have seen in some blogs.

What age and weight should a child have to use the front seat?

To ensure your child’s safety, it’s best to transition them from a booster seat in the back to the front seat with a seat belt after they turn 13, as advised by AAP and NSC. While the CDC and NHTSA suggest kids ride in the rear seat until they’re 12, the exact timing of the switch isn’t specified. For added caution, it’s recommended to have your child continue riding in the back seat until their 13th birthday, although extending it to their 14th birthday is even safer if feasible.

AAP had initially set guidelines stating that children should be at least 4 feet 9 inches tall and weigh a minimum of 80 pounds. However, this recommendation was rescinded following a 2018 study that highlighted safety concerns when children used seatbelts or occupied the front seat, even if they met the height, age, and weight criteria.

Kids that meet these height and weight requirements are typically in their early teens from 10 to 12 years as per the Children’s Wisconsin table below but some kids aged 8 or 9 may meet the 80-pound and 4 ft 9 inches requirement.

AgeHeight – FemalesHeight – MalesWeight – FemalesWeight – Males
127 to 31 inches28 to 32 inches15 to 20 pounds17 to 21 pounds
231.5 to 36 inches32 to 37 inches22 to 32 pounds24 to 34 pounds
334.5 to 40 inches35.5 to 40.5 inches26 to 38 pounds26 to 38 pounds
437 to 42.5 inches37.5 to 43 inches28 to 44 pounds30 to 44 pounds
642 to 49 inches42 to 49 inches36 to 60 pounds36 to 60 pounds
847 to 54 inches47 to 54 inches44 to 80 pounds46 to 78 pounds
1050 to 59 inches50.5 to 59 inches54 to 106 pounds54 to 102 pounds
1255 to 64 inches54 to 63.5 inches68 to 136 pounds66 to 130 pounds
1459 to 67.5 inches59 to 69.5 inches84 to 160 pounds84 to 160 pounds
1660 to 68 inches63 to 73 inches94 to 172 pounds104 to 186 pounds
1860 to 68.5 inches65 to 74 inches100 to 178 pounds116 to 202 pounds

Views from reputable organizations on age, weight and height to transition to front-seat

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Passenger Safety guidelines state that children under 13 years old should be seated in the rear of vehicles for maximum protection.

Center for Disease Control(CDC):

Center for Disease Control(CDC) states on its website that children aged 12 and under should be correctly secured in the back seat using a car seat, booster seat, or seat belt—whichever is suitable based on their age, weight, and height. See CDC’s guidelines here.

National Safety Council:

In creating this safety guide for children’s seating positions in vehicles, I included the National Safety Council (NSC) as a reputable source. The NSC recommends that children under 13 should be seated in the back. See NSC guidelines here.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):

My fourth source is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), recommending that children should ride in the back seat until at least the age of 12. See NHTSA’s guidelines here.

Other countries regulations:

Transport Canada:

Transport Canada recommends that children should not sit in the front seat until the age of 13. However, some provinces may allow children above the age of 12 to sit in the front seat, but it’s essential to check the specific regulations in your province to ensure compliance with the law and prioritize the safety of the child.

UK:

In the UK, children are required to use a child car seat until they reach 12 years old or 135 centimeters in height, whichever comes first. Once they are over 12 years old or taller than 135cm, they must wear a seat belt. You could face a fine of up to £500 if a child under 14 is not in the appropriate car seat or wearing a seat belt while you’re driving. Read UK law here and can see exceptions to the use of safety belts here.

Russian Federation:

In the Russian Federation, children under 12 years old and shorter than 150 cm must be secured in a child restraint device that complies with UN Regulation No. 44 series 04.

Germany:

Children under 12 years old and shorter than 150 cm must be secured in a suitable child restraint system (CRS) that complies with UN Regulations Nos. 44/03 or 129.

UN:

Child Restraint Systems(CRSs) approved according to UN Regulation No. 44 are divided into five mass groups with the last kids group being those weighing 79.3 pounds or 36kgs.

UN’s Regulation No. 44 recommends the use of CRS for kids up to 12 years with kids aged 13 and above transitioning to adult seat belts in the front or the back of the vehicle. UN approved car seat restraint systems by different ages.JPG

What do we advise at Safer For Baby?

We highly advise keeping your child in the back seat until they reach their 13th birthday, and if possible, we further suggest continuing back-seat use until they turn 14.

Why proper fit is important in determining age to transition to seat belt use

Proper fit is crucial in determining the appropriate age for transitioning a child from a booster seat to using a vehicle’s seat belt alone because it directly impacts the effectiveness of the seat belt in providing protection in the event of a crash. Here’s why proper fit is important:

  1. Safety: A properly fitting seat belt is essential for providing adequate protection in the event of a crash. If the seat belt does not fit the child correctly, it may not be able to effectively restrain them, increasing the risk of injury.
  2. Distribution of Forces: A properly fitting seat belt distributes crash forces over the strongest parts of the child’s body, such as the hips, chest, and shoulders. This helps to minimize the risk of serious injuries, such as head and spinal injuries, by preventing the child from being thrown forward or out of the seat during a collision.
  3. Prevention of Submarining: Submarining occurs when a child slips under the lap belt during a crash, which can lead to serious abdominal injuries. Properly positioning the lap belt low across the hips or upper thighs helps prevent submarining by ensuring that the belt securely restrains the child’s pelvis.
  4. Prevention of Belt Syndrome: If the seat belt is not positioned correctly across the child’s body, it may cause belt syndrome, which involves injuries to internal organs, such as the liver or spleen, due to the force of the belt during a crash. Properly fitting the seat belt across the hips and shoulders helps to reduce the risk of belt syndrome.
  5. Comfort: Properly fitting seat belts are more comfortable for children to wear, which encourages them to buckle up every time they ride in a vehicle. Comfortable seat belts also reduce the likelihood of children trying to adjust or remove the belt while the vehicle is in motion, which can compromise their safety.

How about height: The 4 feet 9 inches rule for front seat transition

In a 2017 study titled “Child Seat Belt Guidelines: Examining the 4 feet 9 inches Rule as the Standard,” Amber M. Morse et al. enrolled 388 children, aged 7 to 12 years, to assess whether children meeting the current height guidelines for an adult seat belt fulfill safety requirements for proper fit. Want to guess the conclusion of the study?

This Study concluded that a high percentage of children meeting height guidelines for adult seat belts didn’t fit properly in larger vehicles like large SUVs and trucks and unsafe in front or rear seats, highlighting the importance of proper fit assessment for maximum safety.

The 2017 study, along with a 2018 study by AAP, led to AAP removing the age requirement for car seat stages. Initially, their suggestion that children could move to the front seat when they reached at least 4 feet 9 inches tall and at least 80 pounds was modified. The 2018 revision now indicates that…

  • “All children younger than 13 years should be restrained in the rear seats of vehicles for optimal protection.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now advises that children should transition to a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle’s lap and shoulder belt fits them correctly. This typically occurs when they are at least 4 feet 9 inches tall and between 8 to 12 years of age.

As per Chidren’s Wisconsin chart on weight and heights for kids of different ages, children right before their 10th birthday or in their early teens should not transition to the front seat yet.

Are kids safer in the back seat?

When considering the safest position in the back seat of a car for a child, the middle position is generally considered the safest. Placing the car seat in the middle seat can provide more distance from potential side impacts in the event of a crash.

This positioning also minimizes the risk of injury from the intrusions of the vehicle’s structure during a side-impact collision. However, not all vehicles have a middle seat or a middle seat that is suitable for installing a car seat. In such cases, it’s important to carefully follow the car seat manufacturer’s guidelines and the vehicle owner’s manual to ensure proper installation and use of the car seat in the available seating positions.

Read this guide with reasons why we encourage extended use of rear-facing car seats.

Research and organizations claiming back seats are safer

There is research to support the recommendation that the middle seat in the back of the car is generally the safest position for a child’s car seat. Here are some key points from various studies and organizations:

  1. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA): The NHTSA recommends that the safest place for children under the age of 13 to ride is in the back seat, and if possible, in the middle position. This recommendation is based on crash data analysis showing that the middle rear seat statistically has the lowest risk of injury in most types of crashes.
  2. Journal of Pediatrics: A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that children seated in the center rear position of a vehicle’s back seat were 43% safer compared to those seated on the side seats. The study analyzed data from over 3,600 crashes involving children under the age of 3.
  3. Partners for Child Passenger Safety (PCPS): PCPS, a collaborative research group comprising Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm Insurance, conducted a large-scale study that found a lower risk of injury for children aged 4 to 8 seated in the center rear position compared to those in the outboard rear positions.
  4. European Transport Safety Council (ETSC): ETSC recommends the use of the middle rear seat for child restraints because it offers better protection from side impacts, and in the case of vehicles equipped with three-point seat belts, the middle seat usually provides the most secure belt fit for child restraints.

5-Point test to determine if your child can transition from booster to seat-belt:

Let’s delve into the reasoning behind each point of the 5-point test with examples:

  1. Does the child sit all the way back against the vehicle seat?
    • Why: Sitting all the way back against the seat helps ensure that the child is properly positioned to benefit from the vehicle’s safety features, including the seat belt and airbags. Leaning forward or slouching increases the risk of submarining (sliding under the seat belt) or being thrown forward in a crash.
    • Example: If a child is slouching or leaning forward while sitting in the vehicle seat, their body may not be properly aligned with the seat back. In the event of a collision, this improper alignment could lead to increased risk of injury to the child’s head, neck, or torso.
  2. Do the child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the vehicle seat?
    • Why/Reasoning: Proper seat belt positioning requires that the child’s knees bend naturally at the edge of the seat, allowing the seat belt to fit snugly across the hips or upper thighs. If the child’s knees do not bend comfortably, it may indicate that the child is not tall enough for the seat belt to fit properly.
    • Example: If a child’s knees are dangling over the edge of the vehicle seat because they are too short, the seat belt may not fit properly across their body. In the event of a crash, the improperly positioned seat belt could cause abdominal or spinal injuries.
  3. Does the lap belt fit low across the hips or upper thighs?
    • Why/reason: The lap belt should fit snugly across the child’s hips or upper thighs, not across the abdomen. This positioning helps distribute crash forces over the stronger pelvic bones rather than the abdomen, reducing the risk of internal injuries.
    • Example: If the lap belt rides up onto the child’s abdomen due to improper fit or positioning, it could cause abdominal injuries such as organ damage or internal bleeding in a crash.
  4. Does the shoulder belt fit across the shoulder and chest?
    • Why/reason: The shoulder belt should fit snugly across the child’s shoulder and chest, not across the neck or face. Proper positioning of the shoulder belt helps prevent head and neck injuries by distributing crash forces over the stronger shoulder and chest area.
    • Example: If the shoulder belt is positioned across a child’s neck or face because they are too short or the seat belt is adjusted improperly, it could cause neck injuries or facial trauma in a crash.
  5. Can the child stay seated like this for the entire trip?
    • Why: Proper seat belt fit and positioning are essential for the child’s safety throughout the duration of the trip. If the child cannot maintain the correct seating position, it increases the risk of injury in the event of sudden stops or collisions.
    • Example: If a child is unable to maintain the proper seating position due to discomfort or restlessness, they may be at greater risk of injury in a crash because the seat belt may not be properly positioned or secured.

Why front seats are not safe for kids:

The front seat can be dangerous for kids for several reasons:

  1. Airbag Deployment: Front seat airbags are designed to deploy rapidly in the event of a crash to protect adults. However, because children are smaller and their bodies are not developed like adults’, the force of the airbag deployment can cause serious injury or even death to a child seated in the front.
  2. Seat Belt Fit: Seat belts in the front seat are typically designed to fit adult bodies properly. Children may not be tall or heavy enough to properly fit into the seat belt, which can result in the seat belt not providing adequate protection in the event of a crash.
  3. Proximity to Dashboard: In the event of a crash, children seated in the front seat are closer to the dashboard and windshield, increasing the risk of injury from impact.
  4. Distraction: Children in the front seat may distract the driver, increasing the risk of accidents or injuries.
  5. Secondary Collisions: In the event of a frontal collision, there is a risk of secondary collisions within the vehicle. Children seated in the front seat are more vulnerable to these secondary collisions, which can occur with other passengers or objects within the car.
UN approved car seat restraint systems by different ages and age to start using front seat