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As an attorney who deals in auto and truck accidents, friends and colleagues ask me regularly about child car seats and front seat laws in Missouri. There is a lot of misinformation floating around out there, some of it from my own children who insist they are big enough for the front seat.

Here are the basic legal guidelines that are intended to keep our kids safe:

  • Your child must be in an appropriate booster if they are between ages 4-7 and weigh less than 80 pounds. If they are over 80 pounds or over 4’9” tall, this law does not apply and they don’t need a booster.
  • Kids 8 and over (or younger kids weighting over 80 pounds or over 4’9”) must be secured by a safety belt or buckled in to an appropriate booster seat. (There is a minimum fine of $50 that can be charged for violating this law.)
  • Children under four years of age (and children weighing less than forty pounds, regardless of age) should be secured in a five point harness child passenger restraint system.
  • When transporting children in the immediate family when there are more children than there are seating positions in the enclosed area of a motor vehicle, the children who are not able to be restrained by a child safety restraint device appropriate for the child shall sit in the area behind the front seat of the motor vehicle unless the motor vehicle is designed only for a front seat area.

It’s shocking, but there is actually no hard and fast law about kids riding in the front seat. I often get this question and people are surprised by the answer. Any age is acceptable, from a legal standpoint, as long as the driver adheres to the restraint laws. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (and common sense) recommend that children under 12 always ride in the back seat.

I’m a big supporter of the American Association of Pediatrics recommendation that kids under 13 stay in the back – for two reasons:

  • Vehicle restraint systems are designed for adults not kids; and
  • Children are not little adults.

Seat belts are designed to keep an adult safe during a collision. The lap belt is positioned over the lower hip bone and the shoulder belt is over the breast bone. This combination is what protects us – using the strongest areas of our skeleton to do this – the rib cage and hips.

While some kids may appear large on the outside, they are not necessarily adults on the inside. Hip bones don’t fully develop until 12-13 years of age. Furthermore,  full development of breast bones can be as late as 17 years old. So an “immature skeleton” increases the risk for a child sitting in the front seat.

The back seat’s position is furthest away from the dashboard, the windshield and the airbag – three dangers. I’ve seen statistics that show that sitting in the back decreases the risk of death by one-third. Why risk it? Keep your kids in the back. No excuses. Riding in the back may not seem cool to your kids, but it’s cool to stay alive.

Two Other Interesting Driving Safety Facts

  1. Did you know it’s NOT illegal to drive barefoot in Missouri? There are actually some occasions when it’s encouraged. For example, driving barefoot is safer than driving in flip flops. This is because flip flops could bend under the pedal or be wet and slippery, causing a bad situation. Also, high heels and wedges can be dangerous.
  2. In Missouri, it is not illegal to drive with headphones on. It is not encouraged, but it’s legal. We (and experts) advise against this for obvious reasons unless it involves a hearing impaired driver. Driving in today’s world requires your full attention!