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How old does my child have to be before she can sit in the front seat in Michigan?

July 23, 2015 by Steven M. Gursten

As an auto accident attorney, I’ve been getting more and more questions about the right age, weight and height children must be to abide by Michigan car seat laws. The latest has to do with children sitting in the front seat:

Q. My daughter will be 8 years old in 6 months. She is tiny, only about 4 feet tall and 44 pounds. Even being this small, she won’t have to use a booster and she can sit in the front seat, correct?

A. Thank you for the great question. Unfortunately, Michigan’s child car seat law does not specifically address the use of rear-facing and forward-facing car seats or the use of booster seats. Instead, the law talks in terms of using a “child restraint system.” But the Motor Vehicle Code does not specifically define what constitutes a “child restraint system.”

The good news is, Michigan’s child car seat law does provide guidance for the situation you describe. According to MCL 257.710e(3)(b):

“A child who is 4 years of age or older but less than 8 years of age and who is less than 4 feet 9 inches in height shall be properly secured in a child restraint system in accordance with the child restraint manufacturer’s and vehicle manufacturer’s instructions and the standards prescribed in 49 CFR 571.213.

Significantly, given your daughter’s situation, the law requires a child to be in a “child restraint system” when she is “less than 8 years of age” AND “is less than 4 feet 9 inches in height.” Arguably, that could be interpreted to mean that once a child is either 8 years of age or older OR taller than 4’9,” she is no longer required to be in the booster seat you’re using.

That interpretation appears to be consistent with how the Michigan State Police’s Office of Highway Safety Planning has interpreted the law as well. For more information, take a look at my Michigan Auto Law blog post, “Police interpretation of Michigan’s existing car seat law.”

Finally, in light of the above interpretation, it appears that once your daughter turns 8 (unless she experiences a sizeable growth spurt that puts her above 4’9″ on or before her birthday), the following portion of the Child Car Seat Law would apply in the event your daughter is positioned in the front seat:

“[E]ach operator of a motor vehicle transporting a child 4 years of age or older but less than 16 years of age in a motor vehicle shall secure the child in a properly adjusted and fastened safety belt and seated as required under this section.” (MCL 257.710(e)(5))

Car seat safety tip: To keep your kids safe and secure in their car seats, you can make sure the seats are properly installed.

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