By: Dr. Shira Weiss
“Mom, can I sit in the front seat yet?” I don’t know about you, but that is a question that I get frequently. And while the quick answer is always “not yet kiddo,” with car seat laws and recommendations constantly evolving, I frequently feel like I have to check and make sure I’m following the latest guidelines.
The first thing to remember is that there is a difference between the law (which may vary state to state) and the recommendations – which are put out by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The laws are going to be the minimum requirements by which you must legally oblige, while the recommendations are based on keeping your child as safe as possible for as long as possible.
Let’s break it down by age:
Infants and Toddlers: There are 2 types of car seats available for this age range – rear-facing only, and rear-facing convertible car seats (which can be switched from rear to forward facing when appropriate). Children should remain in a rear-facing seat until they are at least 2 years of age or they reach the highest weight/height allowed by their car seat manufacturer. Now, it’s important to note that the recommendation says until they are AT LEAST 2 years of age. What that means is that your 2.5-year-old or even 3 years old is still safest facing backward……..IF they are within the height/weight allowance of their car seat.
Toddlers and Preschoolers: Children that have outgrown their rear-facing weight or height limit for their convertible car seat should move to a forward-facing car seat with a 5 point harness. They should remain in this position until they needed to be transitioned to a booster because of either height or weight restrictions.
School-aged children: Once a child’s weight or height exceeds the forward facing limit of their child safety seat they should be transitioned to a belt-positioning booster seat. The booster enables the child to be lifted higher, so the seat belt fits them properly. Many convertible car seats have a harness that can be removed so the seat can be transitioned to a high back booster once a child is of age/size. Often parents will move their child from a convertible car seat to a booster too soon – your child must be able to sit still and back in their booster seat so their belt remains in the correct position to keep them safe.
Older kids: The law in Maryland states that every child is required to ride in an appropriate child restraint until the age of 8, unless the child is 4’9” or taller. Every child from 8 to 16 years who is not in a child restraint must be secured by the vehicle’s seat belt, no matter where they are sitting in the car. In comparison, the recommendation is that children remain in their child safety seat (booster) until the seat belt fits them properly – which is typically when they reach 4’9” or between the ages of 8-12 years. Once children are old enough/tall enough to use the vehicle seat belt they should always use both lap and shoulder belts for best protection.
Now on to some common questions…..
- My 2 year old looks really uncomfortable sitting rear facing – what are they supposed to do with their legs?
It is true that as kids get older their feet will reach the back of the vehicle’s seat – this is ok. Kids sit in the strangest positions normally and are able to fold their bodies into positions we would never even attempt. Despite looking uncomfortable, children are typically fine in this position even as they are getting older.
- What about sitting in the front seat?
There is no law in Maryland regarding when a child can move to the front seat of the car. That being said, the AAP recommendation is that all children under the age of 13 sit in the back seat.
You can always stay up-to-date with your growing child by logging into your Patient Portal account to view their most recent recorded height and weight.
Have questions? Call us (301) 279-6750 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more details feel free to check out these resources:
AAP – https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/on-the-go/Pages/Car-Safety-Seats-Information-for-Families.aspx
The Car Seat Lady – http://thecarseatlady.com