At What Age Can Kids Sit in the Front Seat of a Car in Fort Walton Beach, FL?

Understanding Florida car seat and child restraint laws is important to avoid costly fines and keep your kids safe in a crash. Proper installation and use of a car seat can reduce the risk of death or injury in a collision by up to 54% for toddlers and 71% for infants. Kids between four and 12 are 45% more likely to survive a car accident if they are properly restrained. 

Here is what you should know about Florida car seat laws and when your kids can safely sit in the front seat.

When Can Kids Sit in the Front Seat in Fort Walton Beach, Florida? 

Florida is one of several states with no law mandating that children remain in the back seat until they reach a certain age or height. That means children can sit in the front seat in Florida at any age. 

However, the Florida Department of Highway Safety recommends that children 12 and under remain in the backseat when possible. 

The backseat is the safest place for children. Front airbags are designed for adults and can cause serious injury or death to young children, even if they are in a car seat. In fact, most fatal airbag injuries involve young children sitting in the passenger seat. 

If a child needs to sit in the front seat before 13, make sure the seat is positioned as far away from the airbag as possible. If needed, the airbag should be disabled. Rear-facing car seats should never be installed in front of an active airbag.

The Florida Safety Belt Law requires that all front-seat passengers and children under 18 wear seat belts or a proper child restraint device. This law is a primary offense, which means drivers can be stopped and cited if they or their passengers are not wearing a seat belt. 

Seat Belt and Car Seat Laws in Florida

Florida law only mandates car seats or booster seats for children five and under. 

Florida Statutes § 316.613 covers child safety restraint laws. Requirements for child restraints are based on age: 

  • Children under five must be secured in a federally approved child safety seat
  • Children three and under must be in a separate car seat or a car’s built-in car seat
  • Children four to five must sit in a car seat or booster seat

Like many states, Florida’s law on child safety restraints does not reflect best practices.  

Child Safety Restraint Recommendations

Florida child restraint law falls short of recommended safety standards. The NHTSA, American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and other national organizations recommend that children remain in the appropriate restraint system until they exceed the height or weight limit. This means progress from a rear-facing car seat to a forward-facing seat, then a booster seat. 

  • Rear-facing car seats: until 12 months or reaching the weight or height limit
  • Forward-facing seats: from one to seven years until reaching the height or weight limit
  • Booster seats: minimum four years of age and until a height of 4’9”

Kids should not wear a regular seat belt without a booster seat until it fits comfortably across the hips and upper thighs. This happens when they are 4’9” and usually between 8 and 12 years old. The AAP recommends that kids under 13 should always sit in the back seat. 

Car Seats Are Often Used Incorrectly

Traffic collisions are the leading cause of death for young children. About 37% of children killed in motor vehicle accidents were unrestrained. Car accidents are one of the leading causes of serious child injuries.

Child safety restraints are designed to spread the force of an accident to the strongest parts of the body, prevent ejection, and protect the delicate spine, neck, and head. Booster seats ensure that children are positioned so the seat belt spreads force across the strongest bones of the shoulders and hips. Rear-facing car seats spread crash forces across the back to reduce the risk of brain injuries and spinal cord injuries. 

Booster seats and car seats only work to protect children when they are installed and used properly.

Unfortunately, many parents have a false sense of security. About 46% of car seats are installed or used incorrectly, according to the NHTSA. The National Digital Car Seat Check Form (NDCF) database shows that 65% of car seats brought in for inspection in Florida are not used or installed properly. 

The most common types of misuse include: 

  • Loose installation
  • Loose harness
  • Incorrect recline angle (rear-facing)
  • Harness behind a child’s arms, legs, or back (forward-facing)
  • Improper lap belt position (booster)
  • Improper shoulder belt position (booster)

The NDCF database showed that more than half of the safety seats checked had misuse of the harness, seat belt, or tether, but misuse involving the lower anchor, load leg, or recline angle was also common. 

Fort Walton Beach families can attend a free Car Seat Safety Check to make sure their car seat is suitable and properly installed. The event occurs monthly at the Okaloosa County Department of Health, with checks performed by certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians (CPSTs). 

Unfortunately, even properly installed safety seats can’t eliminate the risk of injury in a crash. If you or your child have been injured in a collision, a Fort Walton Beach personal injury lawyer can help you understand your options to recover compensation. 

Contact Our Personal Injury Law Firm in Northwest Florida

If you need legal assistance, contact the Fort Walton Beach personal injury lawyers at Brannon & Brannon Personal Injury Attorneys at your nearest location to schedule a free consultation today.

We have two convenient locations in Northwest Florida:

Brannon & Brannon Personal Injury Attorneys – Fort Walton Beach Office
975 Mar Walt Dr
Fort Walton Beach, FL 32547
(850) 863-5297

Brannon & Brannon Personal Injury Attorneys – Destin Office
4507 Furling Ln Suite 214
Destin, FL 32541
(850) 790-0243