The state of Tennessee requires children under 9 years old be secured in a car seat, booster seat, or seat belt in the REAR seat of a vehicle (when and if available).
Front Seat Requirements Tennessee
According to Tennessee’s child restraint laws, children must ride in the backseats of vehicles (if available) until they reach ONE of the following:
- Front Seat Age Tennessee: 9 years
- Front Seat Height Tennessee: 4’9”
At age 9 or when a child reaches 4’9”, the child can legally ride in the front seat with a regular seatbelt.
However, children under 4’9” are at more risk of injury from a regular seatbelt than those 4’9” and taller, and studies have shown airbags are a risk to children under age 13 during collisions.
So, the state recommends keeping children in the backseat through age 12.
Exceptions To Front Seat Law in Tennessee
Tennessee’s law expressly states that children in car seats or booster seats be restrained in the rear seat if available.
A rear seat is not available when:
- You are in a vehicle with single-row seating, like a sports car or pick-up truck.
- The seatbelts in the backseat are broken or there is another issue with the vehicle that makes restraint in the rear seat dangerous.
- You are transporting multiple children of car seat/booster seat age, and all backseat seatbelts are in use with other car seats or booster seats.
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), these laws are based in research.
So, follow Tennessee state law and keep your kid under age 9 in the backseat (when and if available).
Or, even better, follow CDC guidelines and keep them back there until they turn 13.
And, before that, follow Tennessee’s laws regarding car seats and booster seats.
For more on Tennessee’s car seat laws, see Tennessee Car Seat Laws.
For more on Tennessee’s booster seat laws, see Tennessee Booster Seat Laws.