Understanding Tennessee law and keeping your family safe.

If you’ve ever felt confused by the laws and requirements around children riding in cars, you’re not alone! The details and rules are pretty complex, making them easy to misinterpret or misunderstand. Plus, the laws have changed in our lifetime, making things even more confusing. 

Today, we’re breaking down the exact requirements for children riding in cars so you can feel confident obeying the law and protecting your kids. Remember, the requirements shift as your child grows, so you may need to refresh your understanding of how they should be restrained, positioned, and seated in your vehicle.

When Can My Child Sit in the Front Seat in Tennessee?

Children Must Be at Least 9 Years Old AND 4’9″ to Sit in the Front Seat in Tennessee

In Tennessee, your child should sit in the back seat (when available) until they are 9 years old. However, the state recommends placing children 12 and under in the back seat whenever possible. While an 11-year-old child in the front seat isn’t technically against Tennessee law, that doesn’t mean sitting in the front seat is ideal. 

Automobile manufacturers recommend turning off front passenger seat airbags if a child 12 or under is sitting in the front seat. You might have seen a manufacturer notice or display warning against the dangers airbags pose to children. With this in mind, the back seat is the safest location for children of all ages.

Tennessee’s Tiered Safety Belt System for Children

Tennessee’s tiered safety belt system means that different laws and requirements apply to different stages of your child’s growth and development. Every few years, depending on their age and weight, there are new legal requirements for how you can transport your child in your car. Staying on top of these rules is essential to uphold the law and keep your children as safe as possible on the road. 

  1. Children under 1 year old and weighing less than 20 pounds: Children must be secured in a harnessed child safety seat in a rear-facing position, meeting federal motor vehicle safety standards, in a rear seat, if available. 
  1. Children 1 through 3 and weighing more than 20 pounds: Children must be secured in a harnessed child safety seat in a rear or forward-facing child safety seat in the rear seat of the vehicle, if available.
  1. Children 4 through 8 and measuring less than 4’9”: Children must be secured in a belt-positioning booster seat system, meeting federal motor vehicle safety standards in the rear seat, if available.
  1. Children 9 through 12 and measuring 4’9” or taller: Children must be secured in a seat belt system. It is recommended that any such child be placed in the rear seat, if available.
  2. Children 13 through 15: Children must be secured by using a passenger restraint system, including safety belts, meeting federal motor vehicle safety standards.

Seats and Safety Devices for Children in Tennessee

Car accidents are the number one cause of death for children. It’s no wonder then that there are many rules and requirements for car seats and safety devices. Understanding how to properly secure your child in the car doesn’t just ensure you obey the law, it could help save your child’s life. 

Rear-Facing Seats

Most rear-facing seats are built to accommodate infancy through two years of age, or up to around 40 pounds. As the name suggests, these seats face backward and are considered the safest way for children to ride in a car. You can find both infant-only and convertible options, with some of the convertible models accommodating children over 40 pounds. 

Front-Facing Seats

When your child outgrows their rear-facing seat, they can graduate to a front-facing car seat. These seats face forward, and you might find that your rear-facing car seat can be used both ways and adjusted to suit your child at different ages and sizes.

Booster Seats

Booster seats can give children who’ve outgrown their car seats some extra support until around age 9, or a height of 4’9”. Booster seats work with your car’s seatbelt and come in a variety of options to suit your child’s size and height. 

Adult Seats

When your child outgrows their booster seat, at around age 8 or a height of 4’9”, they can sit in the car seat with no additional device. Children should remain in the back seat whenever available to keep them as safe as possible in the event of a collision. 


Wearing a seatbelt boosts a front-seat passenger’s survival chances by 50% in the event of an accident. If your child is 4’9” or taller, they can sit in the car seat using only the built-in seatbelt. Help them wear their seatbelt correctly, with the lap belt across their hips (not their stomach), and the shoulder belt over the front center of their chest.

Car Crashes and Child Safety Statistics

Unfortunately, thousands of children are injured in car crashes every year. While following all the rules and regulations can help keep your child safe, accidents are sometimes unavoidable.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, in 2021:

  • Child traffic fatalities increased by 8% from 2020 to 2021
  • 445 children were injured every day in traffic crashes
  • 162, 298 children were injured in traffic crashes in 2021
  • Among children 4 and younger, an estimated 325 lives were saved by restraint use in 2017
  • From 1975 to 2017, an estimated 11,606 lives were saved by child restraints among children aged 4 and younger

What if My Child is Injured in a Car Accident?

The team at Mandy Hancock Law knows that nothing is more important to you than the safety of your children. Unfortunately, children are injured in car crashes every year, and these accidents sometimes require legal action. 

If your child was injured in an auto accident as a result of someone else’s negligence, an experienced car accident attorney can help. Contact us today for a free consultation regarding your case so we can develop a strategy for getting the compensation you need for medical bills, damages, and more.

Knoxville Car Accident Lawyer FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

  1. Can my child ride in the pickup if it doesn’t have a back seat?
    • Transporting your child in the front seat of a pickup is not recommended. If you have no other choice, children over one year of age must be properly secured in a forward-facing child restraint or vehicle lap and shoulder belt positioned as far back from the dashboard as possible.
  2. How old does my child have to be to sit in the front seat of the car in Tennessee?
    • Your child must be 9 years old or 4’9” to sit in the front seat in Tennessee, but it is recommended to seat children 12 and under in the back seat whenever available.
  3. Can my child ride in the bed of my truck in Tennessee?
    • It is never recommended to place your child in the bed of your truck. Not only does riding in the bed of a truck place them at imminent risk of death or injury, but it also exposes them to harmful exhaust fumes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration warns that riding in the cargo area of a truck is never safe for children or adults. 
  4. What is the statute of limitations for personal injury in Tennessee?
    • In Tennessee, the basic statute of limitations for a car crash case is two years. Your lawyer can help ensure you file all the proper paperwork and meet the required deadlines so you don’t miss out on your chance to collect compensation after your accident.