Why Did You Sit in the Front Seat?

I’m not a parent, nor have I been a child for quite a few years. When I was a kid, though, I remember that my brother and I sat in the back seat, even when there was nobody sitting beside my parent up-front. This was even true if it was just me in the back seat and only my mother or father up-front. In my recollection, we sat in the back seat until I was, I don’t know, eight or ten years old.

I’m not sure, but I think this behaviour is quite commonplace. I know, in recent years, there’s been a concern about the minimum size of the child and air bags and so forth, but that wasn’t the case back in the 80’s.

This feels like a very naive question, but why does this happen? And if you’re a parent, when did you give your kids permission to ride up front?


  1. I guess you had a different childhood than me. As far back as I can remember, I’ve been sitting in the front seat so long as it is not occupied by someone older than me. I can’t say for sure, but I was probably 5 or 6 my first time?

  2. Ditto here… I sat in the front seat as long as I can remember. I think that my parents were separating me from my sister so that we wouldn’t fight.

    Personally I think that all of these kid rules are ridiculous. I has many naps on on the back dash (is that what it’s called – the area at the back behind the seats) and I don’t think I ever had a car seat…. I guess things we’re different in the seventies.

  3. My mom was a nurse, so we sat in the back seat, as you described, until we were about the same age.

    I believe the front seat has always been considered more dangerous, particularly for smaller bodies that don’t fit the three point seat belts properly.

    It’s probably why your parents did the same thing.

  4. I rode in the back seat when I was in a booster seat — my recollections are foggy, but I think that was until 5-ish, when I started school. Then, if the front seat was open, I sat in the front seat. But with two older step-siblings, that never happened. 🙂

  5. As stated above, smaller kids are not safe in the front seat. The seat belts don’t work properly for small sizes.

  6. As far as I can remember we sat in the front. We even played the “shotgun” game of calling who would sit in the front with the driver.

    I know from living in New Jersey for a short while. Children do not have to wear a seatbelt if they are in the backseat. I often wondered about that one. We always wore our belts front or rear.

  7. I remember lying in the back seat, sitting in the front, and not a car seat to be found.

    But as a parent, I can tell you that the front seat puts a kid closer to danger in an accident. Imagine a crash and someone being thrown forward, seat belt on, and hitting the thing in front of them. Kids in the back would hit the back of the front seat, kids in front would hit the dash or the window. Then there’s the crumple room argument — back seat generally provides more crumple if you’re hit from front or back.

    All in all, back seat is safer, and booster seats are now mandatory for all kids under 9 in BC and at least a couple other provinces.

  8. I lived a dangerous childhood. No seatbelts front, back, or way back (in the stationwagon). In fact, most of the time, the seatbelts were lost somewhere in the crevice of the seats. It was part of the adventure of growing up in the 70s.

    I’m a stickler for my kids though. They always wear seatbelts and they aren’t allowed to ride in the front, even in the car that disengages the airbag. I feel better knowing my kids have a padded seat in front of them if we’re in an accident. It may not protect them any better, but it makes me feel better.

    Regarding seatbelts not working properly for smaller bodies–how are three point restraints different in the front than they are in the back?

  9. I didn’t like sitting in the front seat because I found three point seatbelts uncomfortable. When I did sit up front, I generally put the chest restraint behind me, which you’re not supposed to do but I didn’t know any better. We didn’t have a vehicle with airbags until I was 14, so I could have sat up front but it’s just as well that I didn’t. On a road trip through the States I fell asleep with my feet up on the back of the driver’s seat!

  10. I never even got the back seat – I got the back of the station wagon (you know… where the DOGS go). Anything over 20mph gave me the hurls. My parents tactic was to dope me up on enough gravol to knock me out and pray I didn’t wake until we got to where ever we needed to go. Seatbelts (or lack thereof) was a non-issue. The best part was that my brother was usually the one relegated to “clean it up”. Gotta like that! 😉

  11. My dad actually installed seat belts (lap belts only, which was what was available) on some of our earlier cars, since they lacked them stock. I even had a car seat as an infant and toddler in 1969 and the early ’70s — but it didn’t attach to anything, just had a basic hook that fit over the back of the rear seat. Probably wouldn’t have done much in a crash.

    I sat up front when possible from a pretty young age, and in the late ’70s when we took long car trips I would lie down across the back seat and read, although I usually kept the lap belt on in a weird sideways manner.

    In any of those situations, had there been a collision, I would probably have been in bad shape, especially considering the all-metal dashboard of our old ’65 Valiant, and the glove compartment door that opened down into a convenient, and lethally knife-edged, drink holder.

    We learned the hard way why the back seat is good for kids, especially in the modern era. In 2001 my wife was driving my two daughters (then 1 and 3) who were strapped into their car seats in the back of our Ford Escort wagon. Stopped at a traffic light, they were rear-ended full speed by a Mercedes whose driver was distracted and returning from a funeral. The impact punched in the cargo compartment of the Escort like a giant fist, showering the interior with pulverized glass, and dominoed our car into several stopped in front of it.

    No one was seriously hurt, but my wife did get burns from the airbag propellant, and if either child had been in the front passenger seat they might have been seriously hurt. As it was they got some bruises from their 5-point harness straps, a few small cuts from flying glass, and a good scare.

    B.C. law prevents either of them from sitting in the front seat, even though they are now 8 and 10. And our youngest still needs a booster seat. Neither of them minds that much, given their experience seven years ago.

    1. DEREK:
      in your last paragraph you state that “BC law prevents” your 8 & 10 yr olds from sitting in the front…. I am only aware of the booster seat law! (and that “back seat is best”…) I am seriously trying to research whether it is a law or not as I am 1 seat short for the kids (my air bag is automated). do you happen to recall where this law might be stated???

  12. Hi Darren:

    Lost my link to your blog about six weeks back and am just catching up now. The following story will likely give today’s uber-parents an aneurysm:

    In Ontario in the late 70s my dad drove an Oldsmobile 88, which had a driver’s armrest wide enough that my younger brother could perch on it – so driving around town with my dad, the regular formation was Dad driving, me in the front passenger seat and Gavin perched on the armrest between. I can’t remember if Gav would strap in with the front centre lap belt or not…

    When Gavin outgrew the armrest we would take turns with the front passenger seat. It was the one instance of sharing that I can remember us strictly adhering to, because we knew that if there were any fighting over it, we’d lose our turn.

    My preference for the front passenger seat then as now is that I like to be able to see where we’re going – somehow I don’t feel I can see as well from the back seat.


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