Children in Massachusetts may not be calling “shotgun” anymore

Massachusetts introduces new legislation that will prevent children from sitting in the front passenger seats.

Photo provided by the Herald Sun.

According to, motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death in children from ages one to nineteen.  This is precisely why the Massachusetts’s state legislature recently held a hearing on July 15, 2015, for proposed Senate Bill 1848.  Massachusetts’ state Senate Bill 1848, which was introduced by late Senator Tom Kennedy this past January, would require children under the age of thirteen to sit in the rear passenger seats of cars.

The current law requires children under the age of thirteen to be secured by a child passenger restraint or an adjusted seatbelt, while children under the age of 8 and less than fifty-seven inches tall must be secured by a child passenger restraint.  In a Transportation Committee hearing held on Wednesday, proponents urged legislators to move forward with the bill.  If passed, a $25 fine would be imposed on drivers violating the law.

[T]he bill could “make a life-and-death difference for young passengers”

Boston Children’s Hospital and AAA Northeast are some of the biggest proponents of the bill.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention all recommend that children stay in the back seat until they turn at least thirteen years old.  Dr. Amanda Stewart, a pediatric emergency medicine fellow, said that she has witnessed an unnecessary amount of preventable injuries to children involved in motor vehicle accidents.

Stewart described a case in which a two-year-old girl was thrown out of an open window in an accident.  The girl also had a brother, who was sitting in the back and the only one buckled in during the accident.  He was the only one in the car who was not seriously injured.

AAA Northeast Legislative Affairs Director Mary Maguire supports the bill, saying that the backseat is 40 percent safer for children under thirteen.  The safest place is the middle seat.  By being in the back, children are away from the possibility of being injured by the front seat airbag.  Maguire says that the bill could “make a life-and-death difference for young passengers.”

Janette Fennell, president and founder of Kids and Cars says “[t]his is a great bill. I don’t think it’s extreme at all.  This will help raise awareness — and there shouldn’t be any mystery about the fact that you must be in the back seat and buckled up back there.  I tease people that if I could drive my car from the back seat, I would, because it’s that much safer.”

Most parents agree. AAA Northeast’s Maguire urges parents and opponents of the legislation to remember, “car crashes are the leading killer of young children and teens.  We should welcome any opportunity to keep our children safer in the car.”

Without something uniform, it is hard to know exactly what the law is in the state

Of course, the biggest opponents to the law are children.  Sitting in the front passenger seat is sort of a right of passage from childhood to young adulthood. Many children see it as something “cool” they can finally begin doing after they reach a certain age.  With peer pressure from their friends and schoolmates, it can often be difficult saying no to a child who begs to sit up front with the driver.

One mother from Kansas describes her difficulty with not letting her son ride in the front seat.  When she researched what the law was in her state—New Hampshire—she states “I was surprised not to find an easily definitive answer.”  Most states have confusing laws.  Even more so, it is difficult because most states have different laws.  Without something uniform, it is hard to know exactly what the law is in the state.

The bill also takes into account cars that do not have available backseats.  For example, motor vehicles such as pickup trucks sometimes may not have backseats or parents may have more children riding than seats available in the back.  The law addresses this issue by qualifying that children must be seated in the passenger seat of the motor vehicle whenever possible.

“The rule will make a huge difference for a small change to what parents should already be doing” 

Most states don’t have a specific age for children to ride in the front seat of a vehicle, including North Carolina.  Many states recommend children riding in the backseat for as long as possible.  States like Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington all have similar laws, saying children under twelve or thirteen years of age are to be in the backseat.  Of the states with laws addressing front seat passengers, most usually have both an age and height requirement, as airbags are designed for the average adult male who weighs around 165 pounds.

Some parents even counter, saying that the legislature is butting in where their advice is not wanted.  One commentator to the news post even responded by saying that the government was overreaching and intrusive.

However, it does not seem like too burdensome of a change to make.  Boston Children’s Hospital’s Kathryn Audette says, “[t]he rule will make a huge difference for a small change to what parents should already be doing.”  Telling your child they are not allowed to sit in the front seat seems like a small, almost negligible price to pay for the possibility of saving your child’s life.

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About Kruti Patel, Senior Staff Writer (14 Articles)
Kruti Patel is a 2016 graduate, and served as a Senior Staff Writer for the Campbell Law Observer. She is a Greensboro, North Carolina native. In 2013, Kruti graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in Psychology and a minor in Spanish for the Professions. During the summer of 2014, Kruti worked as a research assistant for Professor Patrick Hetrick researching joint tenancy laws, and at the NC Department of Health and Human Services in the Communications Department. Kruti is worked as Prof. Hetrick’s research assistant and at the NC Hospital Association during her second year of law school.
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