Senate bill aiming to keep kids out of front passenger seats

Bill would call for children 12 and under to ride in the back seat

Car Interior

BOSTON (State House News Service) – Children under the age of 13 would be banned from riding in the front seat of cars in most situations under a bill that’s on the move in the Senate late in the 2015-2016.

The change would align with recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics and AAA, which both call for kids 12 and under to ride in the back seat.

“From my job, this is the recommendation we always make to caregivers and parents whenever possible,” AAA of Southern New England traffic safety manager John Paul told the News Service. “Obviously it’s not practical if it’s a pickup truck — because where are they going to ride? — but whenever possible.”

The bill (S 2520) is a Senate Rules Committee redraft of legislation filed in January 2015 by the late Sen. Thomas Kennedy of Brockton. The Senate gave the legislation initial approval on Tuesday.

It says that a child under the age of 13 cannot sit in the front seat unless the vehicle lacks a back seat or “the rear passenger seat of the motor vehicle is occupied by other passengers under the age of 13.”

Paul said that in situations where multiple children are riding in a car and cannot all fit in the back seat, the caregiver should “make the safest decision possible” about who rides up front. For example, if a parent was driving an infant, a 3-year-old, a 6-year-old and a 12-year-old, the safest option would be to “move the 12-year-old to the front seat,” he said.

AAA strongly supports the bill and has since it was introduced, said Mary Maguire, the director of public and legislative affairs for AAA Southern New England. In written testimony for a July 2015 hearing, Maguire wrote that the back seat is 40 percent safer for children under 13.

Current law requires children under the age of 8 or less than 58 inches tall to ride in child safety seats and kids 12 and younger to wear seatbelts, but does not set minimums for sitting in the front seat.

Kennedy’s original bill (S 1848) — which was cosponsored by Reps. Marjorie Decker of Cambridge, Paul McMurtry of Dedham, Louis Kafka of Stoughton and Frank Smizik of Brookline — called for children under 13 to “be seated in the rear passenger seat of the motor vehicle whenever possible.” The Senate accepted the Rules Committee’s amendment on Tuesday and ordered the bill to a third reading.

The bill would need to pass both the House and Senate by the Jan. 3 end of the 2015-2016 legislative session to land on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk. Both branches plan to meet Wednesday and Thursday.

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