Child safety was probably one of your initial concerns when you learned you were going to be a parent. When you have little ones, it’s up to you to do everything in your power to keep them out of harm’s way. Staying safe on the road and in your car can be tricky at the best of times, but when you add children into the mix, there are even more factors you have to consider.
Kids are small, so a normal seatbelt won’t cut it, and if you’re in the sprawling state of Texas, you can’t avoid cars for 18 years. Having the kids ride in the back seat may be convenient at first, but you’ll need to upgrade their transportation as they get older. They quickly get eager to switch to the front seat.
Texas has blanket laws surrounding child safety in cars that are somewhat ambiguous, so they can be hard to decode when applying them to your own circumstances. Since you’ve probably already lost enough sleep over this, we’ve simplified the most important rules and scenarios for you.
Role of a Child Safety System in Case of an Accident
Texas has over 500,000 road accidents every year. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, one reportable crash occurs every 57 seconds in the state — this makes car crashes a leading cause of child deaths in Texas. These statistics may seem confronting and scary, but a lot of these deaths are preventable. If you follow basic safety protocols and road rules, your child will be okay.
The first step is to use the appropriate car seat for your kids. They can’t use normal seat belts because car manufacturers design those for adults. If the seat belt doesn’t fit the passenger, it won’t be able to protect them in case of an accident. That’s why your kids need specialized car seats. They strap your kids in securely, which stops them from flying out of the seat in case of a collision or sudden break.
While Texas doesn’t specify the sitting position of a child in a car, the directions provided by the car seat’s manufacturer must be strictly adhered to. Because of the danger posed by airbags, manufacturers are highly unlikely to request that these seats be installed up front.
Regulations With Respect to Age
When using a child safety seat in a vehicle, it is only required by law that you do so in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. With this in mind, you’ll need to pick your seats and positions carefully. So, the following are some pointers for age-appropriate adjustment:
- Infants Less Than a Year Old
If your child is less than a year old, you must keep them in a rear-facing car seat. There’s also a 20 to 22-pound limit to consider before you even think about using a front-facing seat.
Choose a seat based on your child’s weight and stick to it until they reach the maximum weight limit. Remember, infants have to be in a rear-facing car seat by law, even if it’s their first ride home from the hospital after birth.
- One to Two Years
Ideally, children in this age bracket should also be in rear-facing seats. However, if they have exceeded the maximum height and weight limit, you can switch to front-facing seats.
- Two to Four Years
Preschoolers and toddlers typically sit in front-facing seats. The front-facing seat must have a harness, and you have to stick to these seats until your kid reaches the maximum limits. Generally, the maximum weight limit is 65 pounds, but every manufacturer is different — so stay aware of brand guidelines.
- Four to Eight Years
Once your child exceeds the maximum limit of front-facing car seats, you can move them to booster seats. Use these seats until your child reaches the appropriate height to use an adult seat belt.
- Eight to Thirteen Years
You won’t need the booster seats once your youngster is four feet eleven inches tall. Of course, the kids still have to sit in the back seat — they just don’t need child safety systems anymore.
Always check to ensure any children in your car are using the seat belts correctly. The seat belts shouldn’t rest on their neck or face. The formal law specifies that an eight year old may use the adult seat but makes no mention of height restrictions. At the end of the day, passengers of all ages in your vehicle are your responsibility — so be extra vigilant when driving with minors.
- Thirteen to Seventeen Years
Once your child is over thirteen, they can start sitting in the front passenger seat. Any child riding in the front should still wear both lap and shoulder seat belts.
Texas Front Seat Laws 2023 – Legal Age to Ride in Front Seat Texas
There is no explicit Texas child-front-seat law, so there’s no set age where a child is legally allowed to sit in the front seat. However, you still have to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for child car seats. That means you can’t place the child’s car seat on the front seat under any circumstances.
In the event of an accident, the airbags in the front seat will deploy quickly to prevent passengers from striking the dashboard. Due to their smaller stature, children are more likely to sustain injuries from the airbags. Occasionally, the airbag impact can propel a child out of their seat and onto the dashboard.
As a general rule, 13 is a good age for children to become front-seat passengers. However, the back seat can be a safer choice if your child is smaller—that is, less than 4 feet 9 inches and 150 pounds. Even when they are the right age, you should move the seat back and ensure they’re wearing seat belts correctly so they are at less risk of injury.
- Front Seat Requirements Texas – How to Tell if Your Child Is Ready for the Adult Seat Belt
There are ways to tell if your child is mature enough to forego the booster seat. You can start by:
- Having your child in the seat and fastening the lap and shoulder seat belts.
- Checking if your child’s back is touching the seat with knees bending over the seat’s edge.
- Checking if the shoulder seat belt rests in the middle of the chest and the lap seat belt is on the thighs or lap.
- Check whether your child can sit comfortably for the entire trip.
If your child can’t do any of these things, you should hold off on the adult seat belt and stick to a booster seat for now. Remember to be patient and trust the process, as safety should be your top priority.
Exceptions for Safety Rules
Driving with a child without following the guidelines above is illegal. However, there are a few scenarios where exceptions are made.
- Height Greater Than 4’ 9”
Your youngster may sit without a child car seat if they are over 4 feet 9 inches tall. They may even sit in the front seat. However, we don’t recommend that if they’re younger than 13 years old.
If the child’s safety requires the driver to travel with the child in the front seat, authorities may waive any penalties. However, getting a quick drink at Starbucks doesn’t constitute an emergency. For example, a trip to the emergency room for a life-threatening situation would pass as acceptable. These occurrences, however, are quite uncommon.
The same applies to someone who is operating the vehicle under the protection of the law. In the event that a police officer is accompanying your child, they are not required to utilize a kid’s car seat.
- Taxis and rideshares
Commercial passenger services like taxis and ridesharing services are not obligated to have car seats available for children. The use of a child seat is recommended, and you should bring your own if you have one. You can try to use the seat belt to secure your child if there is no special childrens’ car seat, but this can only be done for kids who are at least three years old.
Penalties for Breaking the Law
Texas law states that every minor under the age of eight must be in an appropriate child car safety system. The only exception is if the child has a height greater than 4 feet 9 inches. However, these children must use a seat belt.
- Car Seat Penalty
The driver will be in violation of the law if they carry children in the car without complying with the car seat regulations. A fine of $25 to $250 can be imposed, and the prosecution may charge them with a misdemeanor.
- Seat Belt Penalty
Texas law for front seat passengers states that all car passengers must wear seat belts. Failure to do so may result in a fine. The fine for adults is $25 to $50, while minors can get a fine of $100 to $200. Of course, the driver is responsible for the minors not following the law, so they’ll be the ones to pay the fine.
Types of Child Safety Equipment
As your child grows, their car safety needs will change. Here’s a breakdown of all the safety systems available on the market.
- Rear-Facing-Only Seats
Anyone with a newborn is likely familiar with rear-facing-only car seats. This style of car seat is placed backward, so your baby faces the back of the car. These seats support the baby’s head and back, making them the safest option. This is due to the fact that a baby’s head weighs more than the rest of its body combined. Therefore, they need to be protected from potential head or spinal cord damage in the event of a collision.
Rear-facing-only seats typically have a weight limit of 22–35 pounds and feature a convenient carrying handle. They require a base in the vehicle—however, most of these bases are removable so they don’t require multiple installations. If you can, keep your kid in a rear-facing seat for as long as possible.
- Front-Facing-Only Seats
Once your kid is two years old or has exceeded the weight capacity of rear-facing seats, you can switch them to front-facing seats. Use harnesses with these seats for maximum security. These limit the force of the crash and ensure that your child stays snug in the seat.
These seats have a 40–65 pound maximum limit. Stick to these seats until your child exceeds the weight limit.
- Convertible and All-In-One Safety Seats
Convertible seats can be used as front-facing or rear-facing seats. They have an adjustable headrest and harness that you can use to secure your child while they’re growing. Convertible seats can accommodate your child in the rear-facing position for longer because of the higher upper weight limits.
All-in-one seats are similar to convertible seats, except that you can also change them into seat boosters. These seats have more comfort features because they are designed to accommodate your child for longer than any other system.
- Booster Seats
Once your kid outgrows the front-facing seat, it’s time for a booster seat. The kids will continue to use this until they are 8 years old or 4 feet 9 inches tall. Booster seats elevate your children so they can safely utilize a seat belt.
There are two types of booster seats—high-back and backless. Backless seats are like cushions that raise the child so they can use the seat belt. Try to use them if your car has headrests.
High-back booster seats are like front-facing seats without harnesses. The side bolsters offer greater protection and can absorb impact. These are better suited to younger kids.
- RiderSafer Travel Vests
These vests are wearable alternatives to booster seats that are legal in Texas. If your child is over the age of eight but too small for an adult safety belt, these are an excellent alternative for you. These vests don’t elevate your kids like booster seats—instead, they (or you) lower the seat belt to secure the passenger.
These vests are legal for kids in the two to 14-year-old range. The weight limits are from 20 to 110 pounds, and the height limits are 2.5 to 5.3 feet. However, you need to choose the appropriate size for your child.
- Adult Seat Belt
Once your kid can comfortably wear a seat belt, you won’t need any other safety system. Texas doesn’t have laws stopping kids from sitting in the front, but we recommend keeping any underage passengers in the back seat until they’re 13 years old. As long as you ensure that any children riding in your car can properly fasten their seat belts, you’ve done your due diligence.
Ensuring the Quality of the Safety System
You can ask a certified child safety technician to ensure your car seat is safe. You can find them through the national list at https://cert.safekids.org. They’ll also educate you on securing the seat and making your kid feel comfortable.
Sometimes there are technical issues with child car seats, so the manufacturers may recall them. Using these car seats is dangerous, and your child could end up hurt. Registering your child’s car seat is paramount, as this means you will receive the most up-to-date information on any safety issues or recalls.
You can mail in the registration card you get with the seat, or register the seat with the manufacturer or safecar.gov. Doing so will help the manufacturers alert you if there is a recall.
Maintenance and Replacement of Child Safety Systems
Ensure your car seats are properly installed, and be on the lookout for signs of damage. Child car safety systems like seats and boosters have expiration dates. These seats usually last six years.
Most manufacturers print the expiration date on the seat. However, if you can’t find the expiration date, you should assume that it will expire within six years of manufacture.
Wear and tear and damage are usually to blame for the lapse in effectiveness.
You should also be vigilant for updates on the design safety standards. Some manufacturers set the expiration dates based on how the seats fared in controlled collision tests.
Inability to Afford Car Safety Systems
You can still access a car seat or booster if you can’t afford one because of financial constraints. The Safe Riders program by the State Health Department offers free car seats to low-income families.
To be eligible for the program, you should be under financial hardship, have a vehicle, be in the third trimester of your pregnancy (at least), and attend an hour-long class on child passenger safety.
If you have more than one child, you’ll have to set a separate appointment for each one. Each child only gets one seat. You can find out more about how to get help by calling or emailing Safe Riders (800-252-8255; firstname.lastname@example.org).
Leaving a Child Alone in the Car
Texas law prohibits drivers from leaving an unattended child in the car for longer than five minutes. To elaborate, you can’t leave your kid alone in the car for more than five minutes if they are under seven years old. The only exception is if they’re under the supervision of an individual who is 14 years old or above.
Leaving your child unattended in the car is a serious crime which can result in a Class-C misdemeanor and a $500 fine. Additionally, Child Protection Services may get involved. If CPS discovers evidence of neglect or abuse during their investigation, they have the right to take your child into custody.
If your child is injured because you left them, you’ll be charged with a felony. The felony may lead to a six-month to two-year stint in state jail and a $10,000 fine.
Using the Car Seat After It’s Been in an Accident
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends that you replace the car seats if they’ve been in a moderate or severe car crash. Minor car accidents may not require a replacement.
NHTSA defines a minor car accident as one with no injuries or airbag deployment. Additionally, you should be able to drive the vehicle, and the car door near the child seat or the seat itself mustn’t be damaged.
Even though a car seat may appear to be secure, there is still a chance that it is not. Following an impact, harness belts may become slack. Your child is not safe in one of those seats. If you’re unsure about your seat, you can consult a child safety technician or replace the car seat immediately to be safe.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What weight does a child have to be to sit in the front seat?
Texas doesn’t have any strict limits in this regard. However, according to standard safety guidelines, your child should be 4 feet 9 inches tall and weigh between 80 and 125 pounds in order to ride in the front seat. We recommend waiting until your kid is 13 years old before letting them sit in the front seat. Even then, they must wear seat belts.
- Can my 8-year-old ride in the front seat?
Eight-year-olds can legally sit without a car safety seat. The only exception is if your eight-year-old is at least 4 feet 9 inches tall and 80 pounds in weight—in that case, they can ride up front without a booster seat.
- Can an 11-year-old sit in the front seat?
Again, no explicit law stops you, but it can be dangerous. Wait until the child is 13 years old, at least 4 feet 9 inches tall, and the appropriate weight. You’ll need to be especially careful if there’s an airbag.
Airbags are designed to protect adults and can cause serious head or spinal injuries in kids. If necessary, move the seat as far back as possible and ensure the seat belts are secure. The shoulder seat belt should rest on the center of the chest, and the lap seat belt should rest on the lap, not the stomach.
- When can a child sit in the front seat? What is the requirement to sit in the front seat?
Parents should refrain from letting a child sit in the front seat until they’re at least 13 years old. Technically, it’s not illegal, but these are the Texas Department of Public safety guidelines.
- Can I place the car safety seat in the front seat?
Ideally, no. However, nothing legally stops you unless the manufacturer’s instructions explicitly state that you can’t. Of course, you can’t place rear-facing seats in the front. We recommend that you avoid placing car safety seats in the front because front-ended collisions are dangerous and your child could get seriously hurt.
Your Rights With Child Car Safety in Texas
Simply put, legally, you can let your kid sit in the front seat once they’re eight years old. However, you should ideally wait until they’re 13 years old to ensure their safety. Before that, you must check to see if they can easily use the adult seat belt.
You must look for an appropriate safety system if your child can’t use the seat belt. For children less than eight, it is required by law in Texas that you utilize some sort of restraint system, such as a chair. The only exceptions to this rule are if they are over 4 feet 9 inches tall or if you are driving in an emergency.
Child safety is your priority; if you follow the proper guidelines, your kids should be safe. However, things don’t always go according to plan.
If you and your child have been injured in a car accident, you’ll need help getting proper care. Angel Reyes is the best Dallas car accident lawyer and can assist with all of your queries—big and small. With more than 30 years of real-world experience with Texas road laws and safety, we are the five-star choice that will fight for your rights after an accident. While you focus on getting better, hire us to pursue justice on your behalf.