What Is the State of Tennessee's Law Regarding Children Riding in the Front Seat?

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Numerous studies have shown that the safest place for a child to sit is in the back seat of a car. In fact, most states, such as Tennessee, have laws about how long a child is required to be seated in the back seat. At a certain age, however, kids are permitted to sit up front.

In the meantime, there are child seat and booster seat laws in Tennessee for children of certain ages and weights.

Tennessee Car Seat Laws

Tennessee car seat laws mandate that children under the age of three travel in a car seat that's properly secured in the back seat. This preventive measure helps to reduce serious injuries to infants and toddlers in the event of a car crash.

Infants under one year must be placed in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat of a vehicle. Children of any age who weigh less than 20 pounds must also travel this way under Tennessee car seat laws.

Toddlers ages one to three who weigh more than 20 pounds must be placed in a forward-facing car seat in the back seat of a vehicle. They may still ride in a rear-facing car seat if they are under the seat’s weight capacity, which is often 30 to 35 pounds.

Booster Seat Requirements in Tennessee

Once a child is big enough, she can move from a car seat to a booster seat that is also secured in the back seat of a vehicle. The booster seat requirements in Tennessee apply to:

  • Children between the ages of four and eight.
  • Children who are shorter than 4 feet 9 inches tall.

If a child is older than eight but still falls under the height requirement, she must sit in a booster seat according to booster seat laws in Tennessee.

When Can a Child Sit in the Front Seat?

Once a child reaches the age of nine or is taller than 4 feet 9 inches, he may sit in the front seat of a car under Tennessee car seat laws. When doing so, he must be secured by a seat belt.

Teenagers ages 13 through 15 must always wear a seat belt, whether in the front or in the back seat. There is an exception for children who must travel in medically prescribed modified child restraints, in which case a doctor’s note must always be in the vehicle.

Even if the booster seat requirements in Tennessee no longer apply to your child, it is advised that children of all ages always ride in the back seat for safety reasons, to avoid serious injury both from car crashes and from air bag deployments.

What Is the Penalty for Violating Tennessee Car Seat Laws?

While it may be tempting to let your child sit in the front seat of your car even if she isn't ready, you may face penalties for breaking the car seat and booster seat laws in Tennessee. If a parent is found violating the law, he can be fined $50, whether he is driving the car or just a passenger.

A person who violates Tennessee’s child restraint law is guilty of a Class C misdemeanor. A first-time offender may be required to participate in a class that educates offenders about the danger of not properly restraining a child in a child seat or a booster seat. The state can require the offender to pay a fee to participate in this class.

If your child no longer meets the car seat or booster seat requirements in Tennessee, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and keep your child seated and secured in the back seat. If you are ready to make the leap to the front seat, always make sure your child wears a seat belt.


  • Always make sure the seat is properly secured per the manufacturer's instructions if your child needs a car seat or a booster seat to ride in the back seat,


About the Author

Leslie Bloom earned a J.D. from U.C. Davis’ King Hall, with a focus on public interest law. She is a licensed attorney who has done advocacy work for children and women. She holds a B.S. in print journalism, and has more than 20 years of experience writing for a variety of print and online publications, including the Journal of Juvenile Law and Policy.