At What Age Can Kids Sit in the Front Seat of a Car in California?

The best way to protect your child in the event of a car accident is by following California child safety restraint laws and guidelines. Proper use of child safety seats and the proper position of children in a vehicle are crucial to their safety.

Familiarize yourself with the following California child safety seat laws and guidelines to help you keep your child safe. If your child is injured in a car accident, contact an experienced San Diego personal injury lawyer to help you navigate the aftermath. 

When Can a Child Sit in the Front Seat in California?

In California, a child legally can sit in the front seat of a vehicle when they are eight years old. However, the National Safety Council and other sources recommend that children ride in the back seat until at least age 13. Children’s skeletal systems are still developing, and they are much more susceptible to injuries from an impact, which can be more severe in the front seat. 

California Child Safety Seat Laws

You should follow California child safety seat laws to protect child passengers in your car and avoid being charged with a traffic infraction. 

The California child safety seat laws by age are: 

Birth to Two Years Old

Children under the age of two must ride in rear-facing car seats unless they weigh more than 40 pounds or are taller than 40 inches. They should be secured according to the car seat manufacturer’s instructions. 

Two to Eight Years Old

Children under the age of 8 must ride in a car seat or a booster seat in the back seat of a car unless they are taller than 4’9″. 

Eight to Sixteen Years Old

Once children are eight years old, or when they are 4’9” or taller, they may continue to ride in a booster, but it is not required. The child must wear a seat belt. Further, children eight years and older may ride in the front seat, but this is not recommended.

Sixteen Years and Older

Any person age 16 and older must wear a seat belt, whether driving the car or riding as a passenger.

Child Safety Seat Guidelines and Recommendations

California’s safety restraint laws are the minimum requirements adults must meet to ensure the safety of child passengers. Health and safety groups recommend additional guidelines to further protect child passengers. 

Don’t Rush to the Next Car Seat Stage 

The California Highway Patrol, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the American Academy of Pediatrics all recommend keeping children in each car seat stage as long as possible. Each time children graduate to the next car seat stage, they lose a level of protection, so don’t rush the process.

Use a Forward-Facing Car Seat After a Rear-Facing Seat

California law requires children between the ages of two and eight to ride in either a car seat or booster seat but does not explain when to use a forward-facing car seat. 

However, after a child outgrows their rear-facing car seat, they should be placed in a front-facing car seat in the back seat until they outgrow it. When they are between 40 and 65 pounds, they can move to a booster seat. Check your car seat’s manual for exact height and weight limits. 

Keep Children in the Back Seat Until Age 13

In California, a child may ride in the front seat and without a booster seat at age 8. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children ride in the rear seat until the age of 13. Further, children should ride in a booster seat until they are at least 4’9”, which usually happens between ages 10 and 12. 

Injuries to Children in Car Crashes

Children are susceptible to severe injuries in vehicle crashes because their skeletal system is still developing and more vulnerable to injury. Proper use of safety restraints is one of the best ways to protect your child in the event of a car crash. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 63,000 children were injured in vehicle crashes in the United States in 2020. In a study conducted in 2023, 30% of children aged 0-3 years old killed in vehicle crashes were not buckled up, and 35% of children aged 8-12 years old killed in crashes were not buckled up. 

If your child was injured in a car accident, take immediate steps to seek medical treatment to ensure that your child gets on the road to recovery. 

Contact an Experienced San Diego Personal Injury Attorney if Your Child Was Injured in a Car Accident

No parent wants to see their child injured in a car accident. If it happens to your child, contact a seasoned personal injury lawyer to handle the at-fault party and insurance companies while you focus on your child’s recovery.