Can a child who is under 12 years of age and is 65 inches or less in height legally sit in the front passenger seat of a moving motor vehicle in the State of Delaware?

THE ANSWER: YES

“The D Team” will now undertake what some would call MISSION IMPOSSIBLE – interpreting Delaware’s convoluted and ambiguous child seat law so mere mortals have a chance at understanding its legal requirements.

Directly below you will find Delaware’s difficult to understand child restraint law. “The D Team” clarification attempt will follow each individual section of the child seat law along with a brief summary of that law at the conclusion of the child restraint portion of the curriculum.

TITLE 21
Motor Vehicles
Operation and Equipment

CHAPTER 48. OCCUPANT PROTECTION SYSTEM SAFETY ACT

THE LAW
4803. Child restraint in motor vehicles.
(a) Every person shall be responsible, when transporting a child through the age of 7 and up to and including the weight of 65 pounds in a motor vehicle operated on the roadways, streets or highways of this State, for providing protection of the child by properly securing the child in all seating positions, according to manufacturer’s instruction, in a child safety seat or booster seat meeting federal motor vehicle safety standards, and that is appropriate for the child’s weight and height. Every child who has either attained the age of 8 or a weight in excess of 65 pounds and has not yet attained the age of 16 shall, in all seating positions, wear a properly secured seat belt while in a motor vehicle operated on the roadways, streets or highways of this State.

“The D Team” first part of the puzzle explanation: Please note section (a) above identifies three ages (7, 8 & 16). It also identifies one weight group – 65 lbs. The above section (a) only deals with the type of seat in which the child must be secured. The choices are – a child safety seat, a booster seat, or a properly secured seat belt. It does not identify the seating location – front passenger seat or back seat.

Picture #3-4

THE LAW
(b)(1) No child who is 65 inches or less in height and who is under 12 years of age shall occupy the front passenger seat of any vehicle equipped with a passenger-side airbag that has not been deliberately rendered inoperable in conformity with federal law. This subsection shall not apply to vehicles equipped with a passenger-side airbag specifically designed or modified by the vehicle’s manufacturer for use by children and small adults.

“The D Team” second part of the puzzle explanation:
Please note section (b)(1) directly above only identifies seat location using the parameters of age (under 12) and height (65 inches or less). Less than 12 years and a height of 65 inches or less requires the back seat location. However, (b)(1) above also states that if the airbag in the front passenger seat is rendered inoperative in conformity with federal standards then a child can sit in the front passenger seat regardless of age or height. See picture #3-5 below showing a dashboard light (black & yellow arrow) indicating the airbag is off (rendered inoperative in conformity with federal standards).

Picture #3-5

THE LAW
(2) It shall not be a violation of this section for a child 65 inches or less in height and under 12 years of age to occupy the front passenger seat of a vehicle equipped with a passenger-side airbag that has not been deliberately rendered inoperable in conformity with federal law if such vehicle does not have a rear passenger seat or if all rear passenger seats are occupied by other children 65 inches or less in height and under 12 years of age.

“The D Team” third part of the puzzle explanation: Please note section (2) directly above exempts all prohibition on the front passenger seating location of a child regardless of age or height when there is no back seat location available (pick-up truck/sports car) or the back seat locations are already occupied by children 65 inches or less in height and under 12 years of age).

“The D Team” Summary

4803. Child restraint in motor vehicles
1. Age and height deal with seat location (front or back). Age and weight deal with the type of seat to be used by children under the age of 16 years old. Recommendations as to seating locations can be found on the Delaware Office of Highway Safety website www.ohs.delaware.gov

2. If the airbag is rendered inoperative according to federal standards or there is no front passenger side airbag, then the front passenger seat location is available to children regardless of age or height.

3. If all rear passenger seats are already occupied by other children 65 inches or less in height and under 12 years of age or there is no back seat in the vehicle (pick-up/sports car), then any child regardless of age or height can be seated in the front passenger seat even if the airbag will still function — see picture #3-6 immediately below.

Picture #3-6

If the child is under 12 years of age and/or 65 inches in height or less — where is the safest seating for the child? “YOU BE THE JUDGE”!


Delaware Defensive Driving Course