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Lifestyle Maryland Family

"Mom, when I can I sit in the shotgun seat?"

I'm not sure if this is a tale of distracted parenting or car safety, but either one works.

My 10-year-old son -- who is about one inch shorter than me, if that -- has been begging to ride shotgun for quite some time. It's not a daily question, but almost. "But so-and-so gets to ride in the front seat!" And it's true, I see many of his friends up front. I want to joke that I guess I just love him more than they love their kids but I'm afraid he'll repeat it and the joke part will get lost in translation.

A year or so ago I Googled info on when kids can ride up front and came across a very scary compilation of statistics that made me decide I shouldn't even be sitting up front while driving, let alone consider having my kids up there.

Then earlier this week after his lacrosse game, my son and daughter and I piled into the car. As we were driving away, I saw my son wave goodbye to a friend. I saw him giggling to himself and asked what was funny but got a vague answer. I asked him about the game. A few minutes into the drive my daughter said from the backseat, "I can't believe you're letting Jack ride shotgun!"

A sitcom-worthy double-take followed. Yup, I hadn't noticed he was right next to me.

We cracked up all the way home and then started talking about what the rules are about kids riding in the front. I really couldn't remember what the law said, but both my kids said they had heard recently on WYPR that the cut-off is 10 1/2 years; at age 10 1/2, it's OK. I said they must have heard wrong, that that would be a screwy age to set in stone. (Later it dawned on me that, duh, my son is 10 1/2. Again, distracted parenting.)

As it turns out, Maryland has no rules about when kids can ride up front, as long as they're not in a rear-facing car seat. Here's what the state Motor Vehicle Administration says on its website:

  • Maryland's current law requires that children under 8 ride in an appropriate child restraint, unless the child is 4'9" or taller. Child restraint includes car seats and booster seats and other federally approved safety devices.
  • Every child from 8 to 16 years old who is not secured in a child restraint must be secured in the vehicle's seat belt.
  • This law is applicable to in-State and out-of-State vehicles.
  • It is the driver's responsibility for making sure all children are correctly buckled up.
  • Children under the age of 16 may not ride in the bed of an unenclosed pick-up truck. Some jurisdictions, such as Anne Arundel County, have local Ordinances that prohibit anyone from riding in the bed of an unenclosed pickup truck. If you have questions, contact your county or local police department.

Maryland's child passenger safety laws do not prohibit children from riding in the front seat. The exception is placing a rear-facing child in the front seat with an active air bag. If a driver is unable to turn off an air bag, it is a violation of law (as well as a terrible danger to the baby!) to place a rear-facing child in the front seat.

Please note: [Safety experts] strongly recommended all children under age 13 ride in the back seat. Research conducted and published in a report by Partners for Child Passenger Safety clearly shows that children are 40% less likely to be seriously injured when properly restrained in the back seat.

And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says this:

All children younger than 13 years should ride in the back seat. Airbags can kill young children riding in the front seat. Never place a rear-facing car seat in the front seat or in front of an air bag.

So, I can't tell him the law prohibits him from riding in the front seat. But there is this: "I love you immensely. I wish I could keep you in a helmet and bubble wrap 24/7. And it's my car, my rules."

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