*updated February 2021*

As an attorney who handles truck and car accidents, friends and colleagues ask me regularly about child car seat and front seat laws in Missouri. There is a lot of misinformation floating around about car seat requirements, who can ride in the front seat of the car, and seatbelt laws, so it’s important to understand the facts.

Read below to see the latest laws and regulations in Missouri to see how to keep your children safe while traveling in a vehicle. 

Child Car Seat Laws in Missouri:

Missouri car seat laws require children between the ages of 4 to 7 who weigh less than 80 pounds to be placed in a booster seat. Children over 8 must be secured by a seat belt. Violations can result in a $50 minimum fine.

See below for more details:

  • Child car seat laws in Missouri clearly state that 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 weighing over 80 pounds or over 4’9”) must be secured by a safety belt or buckled into 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 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.

The state’s car seat laws were designed to protect children from fatal car accidents. According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, 881 Missourians were killed in car crashes in 2019. 25 of those deaths were children under 10.  While that number is slightly down (-4%) from 2018, it’s always best to take every precaution to prevent a fatality. 

What Are Missouri’s Front Seat Laws?

I often get this question and people are surprised by the answer:

Missouri has no laws outlawing children from riding in the front seat of a car. According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, as long as drivers follow other applicable car seat and seat belt laws, a child can ride in the front seat at any age. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (and common sense) recommend that children under 12 always ride in the back seat.

I Support The American Association of Pediatric’s 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 small adults.

Beyond Seat Belt Laws: Why It’s Important for Children to Buckle Up and Sit in the Back Seat

As stated above, children over 8 must be secured by a seat belt (of course, children under that age must be in a car seat.

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 to13 years of age. Furthermore, full development of breast bones can be as late as 17 years old. An “immature skeleton” increases the risk for a child sitting in the front seat.

The back seat is furthest away from three dangers: the dashboard, the windshield and the airbag. Statistics 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.

Gonzalo Fernandez is a personal injury attorney based in St. Louis. He regularly uses his legal expertise to offer insight on events impacting Missourians, including car seat and driver’s license laws. Recent media appearances include the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, CBS St. Louis, Fox 2, and KPLR 11. To speak to Gonzalo, call (314) 433-9131 or email gonz@stltriallawyers.com.