Sometimes what you drive before your toddler or preschooler was born is what you are still driving today, even if it’s a pickup truck better designed for hauling construction equipment and lumber rather than diaper bags and sippy cups. However, just because your vehicle isn’t the typical minivan doesn’t mean you can ignore seat belt laws. Your pickup might not be your number one choice for a mommy-mobile, but you still need to keep your little ones safe.
1. Cargo Area
As a parent, you know that the truck's bed is simply not a safe place to put young children – or any passengers for that matter – even if they are screaming and you are longing for a quieter ride. The law states that all infants, toddlers and preschoolers must be in a specially designed car seat or booster seat attached to the vehicle at all times. This means all 50 states prohibit children from riding in the cargo area of your truck.
2. Extended Cab Pickup Trucks
When it comes to a full-size pickup truck with a full-size backseat, the same seatbelt laws apply to toddlers and preschoolers as in any other passenger vehicle in each individual state. Toddlers and preschoolers should be belted into the appropriate seats as they pertain to their age and weight. The law regarding the age of children who can sit in the front seat varies in different states, but the majority of states prohibit children younger than 7 years of age from sitting in the front seat when there is a backseat available in a vehicle.
3. Incompatible Seats
Since most toddlers and preschoolers are in forward-facing car seats or booster seats, they should be placed securely in the backseat of a pickup truck and buckled securely in place. However, national laws state that if the backseat of your pickup truck is incompatible with the seat that your toddler or preschooler rides in, you can place him in the front seat. Additionally, if your pickup truck does not have a backseat, your child can legally sit in his approved safety seat in the front.
4. Air Bags
The main reason state and national laws state that children should sit in the backseat unless there is no backseat available to them is that air bags can severely injure children in the event of an accident. If your pickup truck’s back seat is incompatible with your toddler's car seat or booster seat or if you do not have a backseat in your pickup truck, it is recommended that you turn off your airbag when your small children are up front. Some states allow parents to place children in forward-facing car seats in the front of a pickup truck even if the air bag cannot be turned off, though it is not recommended, but it is illegal to place a child in a rear-facing car seat in the front of a pickup truck if the airbags cannot be turned off. Contact your local highway patrol to confirm your state's regulations.
5. Seat Belt Laws
All children must be in the correctly sized safety seat that corresponds with both the child’s age and weight. The seat must be securely fastened to the pickup truck with both a lap and shoulder belt firmly in place. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advises keeping toddlers up to the age of 3 in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible, even though the law states that children who are at least 1 year of age and 20 lbs can be placed in a forward-facing car seat. The NHTSA also recommends keeping a preschool-age child in a forward-facing car seat until she outgrows the height and weight recommendations stated on the side of her car seat. Once your child is too large for a forward-facing car seat, you should place her in a booster seat in the backseat, if you have a backseat.
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Children in Pickup Trucks
- National Institute for Highway Safety: Cargo Area Laws
- Governor's Highway Safety Association: Child Passenger Safety Laws
- National Institute for Highway Safety: Safety Belt Use Laws
- Clinton County: Traffic Safety FAQs
- Safer Car: Car Seats and Booster Basics
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