Laws on Children in the Front Seat in Michigan
By Jayne Thompson
Updated November 30, 2019
Children are always safer in the rear seat of a car, but that does not stop them clamoring to sit alongside mommy or daddy in the front seat. This is rarely the best or safest option, especially for small children who may not be protected in the event of an accident. In Michigan, as in most states, there are strict laws in place regarding where a child can sit in a car.
Children over the age of 4 can legally sit in the front seat in Michigan, but they must use an appropriate child safety seat until they meet the minimum height standard.
Michigan Child Passenger Law: An Overview
Michigan law is driven by concerns over safety, since it is known that young children below a certain height are not adequately protected by a standard adult seat belt in the event of a collision. The law specifies where a child must sit and the type of restraint system that must be used to protect them:
- Children under 4 must sit in the rear seat of a car.
- Children aged 4 and up can legally sit in the front seat.
- Children ages 4 to 8 who are under 4 feet 9 inches in height must sit in an appropriate safety seat regardless of whether they are in the front or the rear of the car.
- Children over the age of 8 (or 4 feet 9 inches or taller) may sit in the front or the rear using a standard seat belt instead of a car seat.
Which Type of Car Seat?
As to the type of child seat required, Michigan law is rather vague. It simply specifies that the child must be properly secured in a child restraint system in accordance with the restraint system manufacturer’s and the vehicle manufacturer’s instructions. In other words, it’s up to the driver to ensure that the child is properly restrained in a car seat or a booster seat that’s recommended for the vehicle type, as well as the age and weight of the child. The driver must also ensure that the car seat is properly installed and fitted.
To help parents, Michigan’s Department of Highway Safety Planning has provided some guidance:
- Rear-facing seats: Babies and infants must use a rear-facing child seat in the rear of the car until the child is 2 or has reached the maximum height and weight permitted by rear-facing car seats.
- Forward-facing seats: From age 2, or when the child has reached the maximum height and weight limit (if earlier), the child must use a forward-facing seat with a harness until they outgrow the highest height or weight allowed by the seat.
- Booster seats: Children who have outgrown a forward-facing seat should be placed in a booster seat until they reach 4 feet 9 inches at approximately 8 to 12 years of age. At this point, they can use a standard seat belt.
What if There’s No Rear Seat?
If the car does not have a rear seat, or if the rear seats are already filled by other infants, then a child under 4 may travel in the front seat, according to Michigan Police. However, the passenger airbag must be turned off if the child is riding in a rear-facing car seat. Drivers could be putting a child’s life at risk if they fail to deactivate the airbag.
Penalties for Using the Wrong Seat
Michigan police have the right to pull over anyone who is not using the proper seat belts for themselves or their child passengers and issue tickets for violating the law. That’s not the only consequence, however. If there’s an accident, and a child is found to have been riding in the wrong seat or the wrong restraint system, then the driver could be found to be contributorily negligent for any personal injuries the child sustains. This could reduce the amount of personal injury damages from the other driver or an insurance company by up to 5 percent.
A former real estate lawyer, Jayne Thompson writes about law, business and corporate communications, drawing on 17 years’ experience in the legal sector. She holds a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Birmingham and a Masters in International Law from the University of East London.