By Katie Moosbrugger
We reached a much-anticipated milestone at my daughter’s 10-year well-check. The doctor announced she weighs exactly 80 pounds. You’re probably thinking, “Yea, so?” Well, if you have a child in elementary school, 80 is the magic number. Apparently, riding shotgun – and the age and weight when it’s allowed – is a hot topic among fourth and fifth graders. They’re dying to get up front. Just look around the next time you are in the carpool line at school. I’m amazed at how many kids (several whom look to be as young as Kindergarten or the early grades) I notice sitting in the front seat. And my kids notice too.
So when the scale revealed 80 pounds, my daughter immediately shot me a sidelong glance and a smile. I knew exactly what she was thinking, and I mouthed the word “Nope,” right back at her. I also made a mental note to look up the law. Surely, she can’t ride shotgun legally, right?
Turns out, there really is no “law” as to when a child can ride in the front seat (or any that I can find). It is recommended that children ride in the back seat until they are 12 or 13. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration also says that children under 12 should never sit in the front seat of a car that is equipped with a passenger air bag due to risk of injury and even death. If a child has no option but to sit in the front, they should at least be tall enough to fit a standard sash seat belt (ideally 57” tall), and are able to bend their legs over the edge of the seat. If you’re able to turn the air bag off, that is another recommendation, as well as moving the passenger seat back as far as possible.
In a nutshell, if your child is age 5 or older, weighs more than 40 pounds and if you have no rear seat – it’s completely legal for them to ride in the front seat. Is it just me, or do you think that is crazy too?
What are the laws?
While I was surprised to learn there is no “law” for riding shotgun, I also learned there are not many “laws” for car safety all together. Below is a list of the only “safety laws” I could find for North Carolina:
~ Kids younger than 8 years old and weighing less than 80 pounds must ride in a car seat or booster.
~ Depending on which comes first, kids can upgrade to a seat belt once they turn 8 years old or top 80 pounds.
~ Car seats must be fastened in a rear seat if your child is under five, weighs less than 40 pounds, and if your car contains passenger-side airbags. You can bypass this requirement if your child’s safety seat is airbag-compatible.
~ Kids, regardless of where they sit in the car, must wear a seat belt.
What are the recommendations?
Seems like there are many more recommendations than laws. I was also reminded that any NC Child Passenger Safety law should be considered “minimum standard.” Below is a list of what is recommended for added protection:
~ Rear-facing seats should NEVER be used in front of an active air bag.
~ According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children should stay rear-facing until at least age 2.
~ Children can move to a booster seat at age 5 and remain in booster seat until a seat belt fits properly.
~ Regarding booster seats and car seats, always be sure to use and install correctly according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
~ A properly fitted lap belt fits low and snug across the hips and should be at least touching the upper thighs. A properly fitted shoulder belt falls across the collar bone and chest. As a general rule, lap and shoulder belt combinations do not fit children well until they are about 4′ 9″ (57″) tall. For most children, this will not be until they are between 8 and 12 years old.
~ If a child needs to ride in the front seat, you should still use a car seat or booster where appropriate.
~ Never forget to register your car seat and booster. If a recall occurs, the manufacturer will have a way to contact you. You can do this by either filling out the card that comes with your car seat or booster, or through the manufacturer’s web site.
~ Even more detailed information on choosing and using car seats can be found HERE in this helpful link.
Car Seat Inspections and Support
If you are new to the car seat scene, or you’re concerned about proper installation and usage, you can always find car seat inspection stations near you. Click HERE and type in your zip code to locate certified inspectors who can provide guidance.
Plus, Safe Kids provides support and resources in keeping your child safe. These include car-seat checkups and safety workshops, among other programs and clinics. Safe Kids Guildford County (Greensboro and High Point) is led by Cone Health. Safe Kids Northwest Piedmont (Winston-Salem area) is led by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, and Safe Kids Alamance County (Burlington) is led by the Burlington Fire Department.
In Greensboro, car seat checks are done on Thursdays by appointment between 1:30-3:30 pm at the Western Division Police Station, 300 S. Swing Rd., by certified inspectors Officers J.B. Price, C.S. Peach, F.J. Brewer and Lauren Lewis. Call Special Operations at 336-373-2216 to schedule an appointment. Additionally, Officer Melanie Daniel, a certified technician proxy and a member of the North Carolina Child Passenger Seat Training Committee, is available at the Central Division Police Station, 100 Police Plaza (320 Federal Place) by appointment Mondays through Fridays 8:30 am to 3:30 pm. Call 336-373-4645 to schedule an appointment.
The Winston-Salem Police Department, along with Safekids Northwest Piedmont, hosts a checking station the third Thursday of each month between 2:30 and 4:30 pm, weather permitting, at the Downtown Health Plaza, 1200 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Call (336) 773-7835 to confirm.
I hope this refresher of laws and recommendations, as well as the list of local resources was helpful. Let me know if you were as surprised as me to learn there are not more laws about car rider and car seat safety. And when it comes to riding shotgun, at what age and weight did you allow your child to sit up front?
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