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Driving Through Washington State? Know The Front Seat Law (2024)

The state of Washington requires all children under 13 years old to be secured in a car seat, booster seat, or seatbelt in the backseat of a vehicle “when practical to do so”.

Keep reading for more on the front seat law in Washington state.

Front Seat Requirement Washington

According to Washington’s child restraint laws, children must ride in the backseats of vehicles (when practical) until they reach ONE of the following:

  • Front Seat Age Washington: 13 years

Washington’s legal front seat age aligns with safety studies that show children under age 13 are at more risk of injury from airbags during collisions.

This is also the recommended front seat age per most vehicle manufacturers.

Exceptions To Front Seat Law in Washington

Washington’s law expressly states children under 13 years old must be secured in the backseat when practical.

It is not practical for a child to ride in the rear seat 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

boy rides in front seat of RV

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

Washington state law requires that children under 13 ride in the backseats of vehicles when practical, which aligns with CDC and vehicle safety guidelines.

So, follow Washington law and keep your kid in the backseat until age 13.

And, before that, follow Washington’s laws regarding car seats and booster seats.

For more on Washington’s car seat laws, see Washington State Car Seat Laws.

For more on Washington’s booster seat laws, see Washington State Booster Seat Laws.

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