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

By: Elizabeth Grace - Updated: 15 Jul 2017 | comments*Discuss
 
Booster Seat Children Seat Belt

We get lots of questions about child car seats, children in the front seats of cars, what age a child can stop using a car seat, use a booster seat instead etc. The main things to remember are:

  • Child under 3 - If there is no room for a 3rd child seat in the back seat (because of children/child seats already in the back) a 3rd child under the age of 3 MUST NOT travel unless they are in the front WITH the correct child seat
  • Child over 3 - If there is no room for the third child seat in the rear, then a child over 3 can sit in the back using an adult belt
  • Child over 3 and up to 135cm - If there is no room for a third child over the age of 3 in the rear then they can use the front seat WITH the correct child seat
  • Children over 3 years of age and up to 135cm (or 12 years of age) - MUST use the correct child seat (usually the type of car seat needed varies according to a child's weight)
  • Where a child over 3 and up to 12 (or 135cm) is using an appropriate seat, this should be used in the rear where possible

My son, who is 7 years old and 140cm tall, was picked up from school today by a friend but she was stopped by a traffic warden and advised that he is not allowed in the front seat unless he is over 16 and that he does require a booster seat.
From reading the info on this site I understand that as long as he exceeds 135cm, he does not need a booster seat, and I cannot see anything documented that states he cannot sit in the front seat of a car. Can you help?

While the laws regarding the transport of children are specific, they can be a bit confusing. Although you didn’t specifically say that your son was wearing a seat belt when your friend was stopped by the traffic warden, I’m assuming that he was. According to current law in the UK, your friend was not acting unlawfully in transporting your son, so the traffic warden was out of line to suggest that she was. If he was unbelted, however, then he would not have been allowed to ride in the front seat and the warden was partially correct.

With regards to car seat laws in the UK, here are the specifics that apply to your son, at age 7 and 140cm. Normally, 7 year olds require booster seats (they are necessary until the age of 12, unless the child is at least 135cm tall), but since your son is tall for his age, the law does not require him to use one. Additionally, there is no law that prevents him from riding in the front seat of a car, as long as he is wearing a seat belt.

While the law was not broken when your friend transported your son from school, it is important to remember that it is considered far safer for children to ride in the rear seat of a car than in the front.

Booster Seats Offer Additional Safety

Booster seats, while not required for a child of your son’s height, do provide an additional layer of safety, and the Department for Transport recommends that children should continue using booster seats until they are 150cm tall. So, for everyday transportation, he would ideally be seated in a back seat booster that is appropriate for his weight.

If the situation was to arise again and your son needs to unexpectedly be transported by a friend, he can ride in the front seat if he wears a seat belt. Children or any other passengers cannot ride in a car without wearing a seat belt.

Airbag Precautions

When placing children in the front seat of a car you must also consider the airbag, and if the car has one it MUST be switched off. Children have been killed by car airbags, even when the collision was only a minor one and one which wouldn't have normally resulted in death.

Even at the age of 7 and at the height of 140cm your is still at risk from the car airbag if he is in the front seat of a car.

  • Children of that age and even older have not fully developed and can not withstand the force with which the airbag is released
  • Their back, neck and stomach muscles are weaker than that of an adult
  • A child's head is also out of proportion to the rest of their body which makes it harder for them to kept an upright position during collisions, resulting in their body being propelled further forward than an adult and thus increasing the impact as they hit the airbag

As a guide children under the age of 12 should sit in the back seat on the correct child seat for their age, so for your son of 7 that would be a booster seat. Contrary to popular belief the safest place for a child to sit is the middle seat of the back seat of the car, as long as it has a 3 point seat belt.

If you, or anyone transporting your child, do put your child in the front seat of the car make sure that the airbag is turned off and that the seat is slid backwards so it is further away from the dashboard. If your airbag does not have a switch to turn it off you can have on installed, the car manufacturer will be able to do this.

Baby Car Seats

You should never place a baby in a rear facing car seat in the front seat of a car which has an air bag. The position of the car seat places the baby's head in the direct firing line of the airbag - which is released at a speed of approximately 200mph! Ideally all baby car seats should be used in the rear of the car even if they are front facing ones. Read more about child and baby car seats in our feature here.

Read Information on child car seat rules on the government website.

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I am currently having a disagreement with my ex about child car safety guidelines. He is putting either my 5 year old son or 3 year old daughter in the front passenger seat ( in their appropriate forwarding facing chair) and leaving the airbag off. This is for no reason other than he wants too (against my wishes) and there is space in the back for the two seats to go. I am aware this is not illegal but guidelines advise that the back is the safest and to put children in the back when possible, but I'm unclear about the airbag guidelines in this situation. If you can help that would be appreciated, thanks!
Lucy - 15-Jul-17 @ 8:35 PM
Hi, just to go sure: My son is 9 and 149cm - this means he doesn´t need a child seat AND he is allowed to sit on a front seat?! Thanks and greetings from Continental Europe! :)
Stef - 9-Jul-17 @ 1:11 PM
My daughter 2 years old , she is crazy about sitting in front sit , she cry a lot when she sit back ,she has correct car sit . Can she sit in the front with airbag off ?
Helen - 21-Jun-17 @ 3:49 PM
Hi I only have at the moment a Citroen van it only has two seats,my daughter is 6 years old.if she is in the correct seat is she allowed in the van with the airbag off.
Mason35 - 12-Jun-17 @ 6:32 PM
I was wondering if my 6 year old daughter (with a booster seat) would be able to travel in the front seat of my car.
IamLOL - 10-Jun-17 @ 10:01 AM
Hi, I have a classic car with no rear seat belts. Can my 2year old travel in his forward facing seat in the front of the car? What is the safety implication of that as if it's legal but not safe I wouldn't want to do it.
Adz - 15-May-17 @ 9:07 PM
I have a 1973 sports car. Can my 5 and 8 year old grandchildren come out for a ride with me? Not together of course.
willie - 25-Mar-17 @ 3:12 PM
Becky - Your Question:
I am expecting a third child, and will not be able to fit three car seats in the back of my car. So I will need to put one in the front seat. I will have a 4-year-old in a high-back booster, a 2-year-old in a forward-facing group 1 seat, and a baby in a group 0 (rear-facing) seat. Which would be the best (safest) one to put in the front? I can turn off the passenger airbag. (This should only be a problem for occasional short journeys, as we use my husband's car at weekends which is big enough for three in back).

Our Response:
Where two occupied child seats in the rear prevent the fitment of a third child seat children under three must be in a child car seat. If there’s no room for a third child car seat in the back of the vehicle, the child must travel in the front seat with the correct child car seat. Children aged three or older can sit in the back using an adult belt. Please see link here which explains further. In addition and as specified in the article, if you, or anyone transporting your child, do put your child in the front seat of the car make sure that the airbag is turned off and that the seat is slid backwards so it is further away from the dashboard. If your airbag does not have a switch to turn it off you can have on installed, the car manufacturer will be able to do this.
SafeKids - 23-Feb-17 @ 10:14 AM
I am expecting a third child, and will not be able to fit three car seats in the back of my car. So I will need to put one in the front seat. I will have a 4-year-old in a high-back booster, a 2-year-old in a forward-facing group 1 seat, and a baby in a group 0 (rear-facing) seat. Which would be the best (safest) one to put in the front? I can turn off the passenger airbag. (This should only be a problem for occasional short journeys, as we use my husband's car at weekends which is big enough for three in back).
Becky - 22-Feb-17 @ 12:40 PM
I would advise anyone to check their vehicles drivers handbook sectionon child seating a lot of manufacturers do not recommend children being seated in the front I personally would go with the manufacturer and not some blanket ruling trying to cover all vehicles
Denty - 20-Feb-17 @ 8:52 PM
Personally, I think all children under the age of 14 should be in the back seat. They must wear their seat belts
Miss Piggy - 12-Jan-17 @ 6:19 PM
Would be nice if you actually answered the f***ing question, instead of just quoting random parts of the DVLA website. Are there any rules governing when a child can sit in the front seat (age; height; weight or whatever)?? A.
Asterion - 1-Jan-17 @ 2:07 PM
My daughter is 22 months old had the correct child seat and airbag has been disabled can she sit in the front of car
Kirsty - 9-Oct-16 @ 11:07 AM
I have a 16 month old, due with my second in a few weeks and my ex has a 5 year old daughter. There won't be room for 3 car seats in the back of his car so I'm wondering if it's safer for her to travel in the rear of the car without a car seat or in the front of the car with a car seat?
Jessybak6 - 29-Aug-16 @ 9:14 AM
Woodie - Your Question:
Im due to go on holiday tomorrow with my daughter who is 3 years old! I am going to have to lay the back seats down in my car to fit everything in, so she will have to sit in the passenger seat of my car in an appropriate car seat of course. Is this aloud?

Our Response:
As specified in the article, children under three must be in a child car seat. If there’s no room for a third child seat in the back of the vehicle, the child must travel in the front seat with the correct child seat, please see more via the gov.uk link here.
SafeKids - 25-Aug-16 @ 10:22 AM
Im due to go on holiday tomorrow with my daughter who is 3 years old! I am going to have to lay the back seats down in my car to fit everything in, so she will have to sit in the passenger seat of my car in an appropriate car seat of course. Is this aloud?
Woodie - 24-Aug-16 @ 12:23 PM
my grandson is nearly 5 yrs and 115cm in hight.Can he sit in the front seat of the car on his booster chair
susan - 21-Jun-16 @ 5:10 PM
It states about front airbags have been known to kill.ypung children... what about rear seat airbags and curtain airbags.. my car has 7 in total. Side impact.Curtain and front airbags.. Does the same problem arise with the child being killed with all these other safety airbags.. it just seems daft that if airbags are known to kill a child that they're really defeating the object in trying to savea life... We got this car mainly because of its safety from the airbags. But appears as this additional safety could kill them in the event of even a small shunt.....
Brads - 25-Apr-16 @ 11:01 PM
This was my dilemma one day: I bumped into a friend in town who has a 5 year old - they needed to go home and she invited us to come too (they live a few miles away). I would have happily have given them a lift but although I had a car seat for my daughter I didn't of course have one for hers. The alternative is they get a bus or taxi without a car seat and we drive to their house. Although the latter seems ridiculous (as this would be no safer, more expensive,and much less convenient), I thought we would have to do this to avoid getting in trouble with the law. Then I saw the info aboutjourneys being exempt from the car seat rule if unexpected, necessary and over a short distance. I'm not sure though if such a scenario this would count as 'necessary'? Could you advise? Thanks.
Laura - 17-Apr-16 @ 5:41 PM
My x daughter in law insists that our 6yr grand daughter can sit in the front seat on her booster seat as the airbag is turned off, she's small for her age & the seatbelt hasn't been adjusted, is she right or should she be in the back seat, it's a 5 door vehicle
Smithy - 1-Apr-16 @ 11:09 AM
My son is 3 years old, an has a front facing car seat, can he or not sit in passenger seat.I'm worried of putting him there.
Shelly - 28-Mar-16 @ 6:55 AM
My 13 yr old is 5ft 5 is he allowed to travel in front seat in Britain.
Happy mum - 20-Feb-16 @ 7:23 PM
@Regular - Airbags are considered dangerous for children under 12. As your daughter is 5ft1", she can be judged as adult size so is fine to have the seat in the normal position.
Jess - 15-Feb-16 @ 11:35 AM
I drive a 2001 Vauxhall Zafira which has a passenger airbag which can't be switched off.Can my 12 year old daughter sit in the seat & if so should the seat be positioned as far back from the airbag as is possible.Her height is 5' 1"
Regular - 14-Feb-16 @ 10:10 AM
We have a 2011 citreon dispatch van with 3 seats with seat belts across the front.We would like to fit a childs seat for our grandson.We are confused as to whether this is legal or nit and whether we need to switch off the airbag.I have soent several hours combing the internet and i am niw thoroughly confused.
Carol - 17-Jan-16 @ 7:24 PM
I have witnessed a local mum with 2 kids aged 6 and 3 returning from the school run with both kids standing in the back seat and on more than one occasion the elder child has the passenger door open while the car is still in motion
kaz - 12-Jan-16 @ 8:17 PM
pork - Your Question:
Are children allowed to ride in front seat of cars in Austria with airgbag turned on and if so what is the age allowed to be up front thank you very much

Our Response:
I'm afraid we can't answer your question, as we are a UK-based site and are only knowledgeable of UK-based laws.
SafeKids - 5-Nov-15 @ 11:06 AM
are children allowed to ride in front seat of cars in Austria with airgbag turned on and if so what is the age allowed to be up front thank you very much
pork - 4-Nov-15 @ 11:53 AM
My daughter is 9, 5 feet 1, can she sit in front my blazer with a airbag??
Smilies76 - 7-Sep-15 @ 7:26 AM
@tl - I read that you can switch them back on when a child is 12, but you should still move the seat as far back as possible.
Phoeb - 18-Aug-15 @ 1:59 PM
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