My 11-year-old has been bugging me to sit in the front seat. It seems some of his friends have been sitting up front since they were eight and he's feeling deprived.
I've told him the law requires children to sit in the back seat until they're 12 and I don't want to get a ticket or have him be injured.
He wondered, then, why his friends' parents weren't worried, and I had to admit I wasn't sure. Were the other parents ignorant of the law or was it I who was mistaken?
A bit of both, as it turns out. It seems the rules aren't actually laws – they're recommendations, which can vary from province to province.
I asked Elaine Dimitroff, team leader of partnership and development at Ontario's Ministry of Transportation, to help with my predicament. She said I was right to keep my child in the back seat, but other parents aren't necessarily wrong to put theirs in the front, as long as they're mindful of certain criteria.
Before moving a child to the front, Dimitroff said, it's important to consider the car's airbag system. Front airbags, which are designed and tested for an adult's bone structure, deploy at a speed of about 300 km/h, and can damage the internal organs of a child. By the age of 12, children are more developed toward an adult structure and are better able to withstand the impact.
If you're not sure what type of airbag system your vehicle has, check your sun visor for a warning sticker, which should include age recommendations. The vehicle manual will have more information on properly restraining your child.
Some vehicles don't have front passenger airbags and others allow you to turn them off. In those cases, you could put a child who no longer needs a booster seat up front. However, Dimitroff cautioned that should only be done if there are no other options, because the back seat is always safest, being the furthest from any point of impact in an accident.
If you're thinking of using a booster in the front seat to keep your child safe, don't: That is actually illegal and could get you fined, Dimitroff said.
Speaking of booster seats, I admitted I was a bit confused about those as well. I'd read kids should be 80 pounds or four-foot-nine before leaving their booster seats, which usually happens around eight. My children were much less than 80 pounds at eight, but met the height requirements. Was I right to take them out of their boosters?
"By law, they are allowed to be out of a booster seat," Dimitroff said, "but we always say the law is a minimum requirement. You should always follow the manufacturer's recommendations and it's best to keep a child in each stage as long as possible."
I'm not the only parent unsure of the rules around child restraints. Gino Desrosiers, spokesman for Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec, said a survey conducted by his organization in 2011 showed 51 per cent of children were not properly restrained while travelling in cars.
Dimitroff said she kept her own children in booster seats until they were 11. Maybe if I tell my son that, he won't feel so deprived about not sitting in the front.
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