The state of North Carolina requires children younger than age 5 who weigh less than 40 pounds to be secured in a car seat or booster seat in the BACKSEAT of a vehicle if the passenger side of the vehicle has a front airbag.
Front Seat Requirements North Carolina
According to North Carolina’s child restraint laws, children must ride in the backseats of vehicles with front airbags until they reach ONE of the following:
- Front Seat Age North Carolina: 5 years
- Front Seat Height North Carolina: 40 pounds
At age 5 or when a child reaches 40 pounds, the child can legally ride in the front seat of a vehicle with a passenger-side airbag, as long as they are properly restrained in a car seat or booster seat.
However, children under 4’9” are at more risk of injury from a regular seatbelt than those 4’9” and taller, even in car seats or booster seats.
Studies have shown airbags are a risk to children under age 13 during collisions.
Due to this, the state recommends keeping children in the backseat through age 12 or 13 if possible.
Exceptions To Front Seat Law in North Carolina
North Carolina’s front seat law forbids children under age 5 and under 40 pounds from riding in the front seat of a vehicle with a passenger-side airbag.
But there are exceptions.
The exceptions to North Carolina’s front seat law are:
- If the vehicle’s passenger-side airbag can be, and is, turned off.
- If the vehicle with the passenger-side airbag has no backseat.
- If the seatbelts in the backseat are broken or there is another issue with the vehicle that makes restraint in the rear seat dangerous.
General Front Seat Law FAQ
When can a child sit in the front seat?
Legally, the age (or height) at which a child can sit in the front seat varies from state to state.
Some states have no laws preventing children from sitting in the front seats of vehicles regardless of age (even while still in car seats).
When it comes to safety, however, a child should not sit in the front seat of a vehicle until they are at least tall enough to properly fit a standard seatbelt (4’9”).
But the longer you can keep them in the backseat the better.
The CDC recommends all children under the age of 13 sit in the backseat of vehicles.
What is the purpose of front seat laws?
Studies have shown children under the age of 13 are safest in the backseats of cars.
More specifically, the center backseat is the safest place in a vehicle for a child.
This is why some states have laws forbidding children from riding in the front seat of vehicles until they reach a specific height or age.
Why is the front seat unsafe for children?
There are two main reasons the front seat of a car is unsafe for children.
One of the reasons children fare better in the backseat of a vehicle during an accident is because head-on collisions are one of the deadliest types of car crash.
Though they make up only 2% of all car crashes, head-on collisions account for over 10% of car crash deaths. (Rollovers are the only other accident type with such a disproportionate fatality rate for those inside the vehicle.)
Since the back seat is furthest from the front of the vehicle, it is the safest place to be in a head-on collision.
The second reason children fare better in the backseat of a vehicle during an accident is because the safety devices installed in cars to protect passengers during a collision are designed for adults.
Since airbags are designed for adults and not children, the impact of an air bag when deployed can cause more harm to a child than the accident itself.
Research conducted by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found “children exposed to air bags during a crash are twice as likely to suffer a serious injury.”
The Safest Place For Kids Is The Backseat
While back seat laws and recommendations might seem inconvenient (especially if you only have a pick-up truck with front airbags), these laws are based in research.
So, follow North Carolina state law and keep your kid under age 5 and under 40 pounds in the backseat if there’s a passenger-side airbag.
Or, even better, follow CDC guidelines and keep all kids in the back, regardless of airbag status, until they turn 13.
And, before that, follow North Carolina’s laws regarding car seats and booster seats.
For more on North Carolina’s car seat laws, see North Carolina Car Seat Laws.
For more on North Carolina’s booster seat laws, see North Carolina Booster Seat Laws.