Can Your Child Sit in the Front Seat?
If you are the parent of a child capable of speaking words, you have heard this question – perhaps one hundred times or more. “Can I sit in the front seat?” Depending on your past driving experience, your current feeling toward the inquiring child, and the logistics of the trip to come, you will answer either yes or no. Some of you may even ask yourselves what the law says about this subject. This post has the answer: It depends.
Current Events in Child Seat Safety:
One of the laws passed during the last session of the General Assembly and sent to Governor Northam’s desk would require all kids under the age of two and 20 pounds in weight to be placed in a rear-facing car seat. This bill placed an emphasis on what current Virginia law says about where kids must sit in motor vehicles. Surprisingly, it says very little.
Currently, Virginia law only requires two things. First, children up to eight must be “properly secured in a child restraint device.” Second, “rear-facing child restraint devices shall be placed in the back seat of a vehicle,” assuming the vehicle has one. This means that the only children not allowed in the front seat are those in rear-facing seats.
The proposed bill this year would add to existing law. This means that only kids age two and younger are lawfully unable to sit in the front seat of a vehicle.
Recommendations versus Requirements in Child Seat Safety:
The purpose of this post is to examine the legal requirements for children sitting in the front seat of vehicles. When it comes to our children, however, we often look to exceed the minimum requirements; we want to do what is best. After age two, you need to decide what is best.
Resources provided by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), and even the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that kids stay in the back seat until age 13. These resources highlight the four stages of child safety seats:
- Rear-facing seats
- Forward-facing seats
- Booster seats
- Seat belts
The resources are pretty consistent in their recommendations. They generally suggest that kids should stay in forward-facing safety seats until at least age 4, booster seats until age 8, and seat belts in the back seat until 13.
The law may seem pretty straight forward. However, if pulled over, the government may ticket you based on its Officer's subjective interpretation of the statute as well as the recommendations outlined above. Often, your best defense can only be presented in a courtroom, and not on the side of the road.
Penalties for Violating Child Seat Safety:
Those who violate existing child safety seat laws could pay a fine of $50 for a first offense. Second offenses and beyond may cost drivers $500 each time. In Virginia, those penalties are paid into a special fund, called the Child Restraint Device Special Fund, which is designed to promote child seat safety.
From the big (criminal charges) to the small (motor vehicle violations), you need to know your rights; in this case, that means knowing what the law really says about where and how your child must sit in the car. If you are in need of an attorney to help you with a violation of this kind, please call or e-mail today for a free consultation!
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