Car seat safety can be complicated, but it is critically important for your family. Generally, it is recommended that child car seats be installed safely in the backseat of a vehicle. While having your child ride in the front seat of a single cab truck is not ideal, it can be done safely in most cases when this is the only option, such as in a single cab pickup.
In the event you must install a car seat in a single cab truck, there are legal and safety considerations to keep in mind. Anytime a child under the age of 12 is riding in the front seat, the passenger airbags MUST be turned off. Additionally, keep the car seat rear-facing for as long as possible will help prevent more serious injuries and deaths.
Read on to learn more about state and national laws for the usage of car seats in a front seat, important instructions for installing a car seat in a front seat, and where to find car seat installation help.
Can you put a car seat in a single cab truck?
Legally, a child can ride in a car seat that is secured in the front seat of a vehicle if the vehicle does not have a back seat. However, there are safety risks involved with riding in the front seat, and it should be seen as a last resort whenever possible.
If your child must ride in the front seat, you should make sure that your passenger front seat airbags are disabled, as the deployment of airbags can cause serious injury or even death to children under the age of 12. In fact, this is state law in many areas. Additionally, the top tether should be securely fastened if you are using a front-facing car seat, and your child’s car seat must not hang off the vehicle seat more than 15%.
Generally, automotive manufacturers and car seat experts recommend that car seats be installed in the back seat when applicable. This is because riding in the back seat offers your child better protection in the event of a crash.
Your owner’s manual should contain more information from the vehicle manufacturer about safe car seat usage and installation, as well as where and how to turn off the front passenger airbags when necessary.
Is it legal to have a car seat in a single cab truck?
It is legal in all 50 states to transport your child in a single cab truck. However, there are a few simple regulations that must be followed to install and use a car seat in a front seat.
According to U.S. national law, the requirements for using a car seat in a single cab truck are:
- The width of the passenger seat must support 85% of the child’s car seat.
- For forward-facing car seats, the seat must be installed using a top tether.
- A child must be in a car seat that is appropriate for their height and weight.
- A child can only sit in a front seat when there is no appropriate rear seat.
- You must use the vehicle’s LATCH system or shoulder belt to properly install the seat.
Additionally, in some states, there are stricter statutes that add to the existing national laws.
The following states have additional language in their car seat laws regarding the deactivation of front passenger airbags:
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
To check the specific laws for your state, visit the car seat law directory at Safe Ride 4 Kids.
Is it safe to install a car seat in a single cab truck?
It is important to remember that just because something is legal, doesn’t mean it is safe.
If at all possible, you should try to ensure your child rides in the back seat of a vehicle until at least the age of 12. In fact, The American Academy of Pediatrics officially recommends that all children younger than 13 years old ride in the back seats of vehicles.
If your vehicle does not allow you to meet the list of requirements outlined in the section above (for example if it does not have a tether latch or a way to turn off the front passenger airbags) you will need to use a different form of transportation for your child. Some trucks simply aren’t safe enough to properly install and use a child car seat.
Multiple studies have shown that rear-facing is safer for kids due to an increased ability to absorb the impact of a crash without injury.
According to the AAP, the best practice for car seat usage is to use your child’s rear-facing car seat as long as possible and then switch to rear-facing in a convertible car seat until the height and weight limits for that seat have been exceeded. For most kids, this works out to be around the age of 4.
When installing a rear-facing car seat, you will want to make sure that the passenger airbags are turned off. In a single cab truck, it is especially important to ensure a proper fit on your vehicle’s seat (85% of the car seat must be securely touching the vehicle seat) and make sure that your child’s seat is properly restrained using the LATCH system or vehicle seat belt.
If you are using a forward-facing seat, there must be a place to securely fasten the top tether.
This tether is crucial in preventing whiplash and other head and neck injuries in the event of a crash. You can locate your vehicle’s tether anchor or loop by checking your owner’s manual or visiting a certified car seat inspection station for help.
In addition, you must ensure that your child safely fits within the car seat’s height and weight requirements.
After your child has outgrown their rear-facing and their front-facing car seats, it is time to switch to a high-back or backless booster.
Since some high-back boosters can be quite large, you will want to ensure that your child can sit securely without their head getting too close to the top of your truck’s cab or without the car seat hanging off the seat.
Although your child is bigger, you will still want to make sure the front passenger airbags are turned off.
Installing a car seat in a single cab truck
There are a few key differences when it comes to installing a car seat in a single cab truck.
Generally, locating the tether anchor or loop will be a bit tricky, and you will need to make sure you turn off your truck’s front passenger airbags. You will also need to make sure that your child’s car seat properly fits in the limited space that many single cab truck front seats allow.
Find the tether restraint hardware
A tether anchor works alongside a vehicle’s lower anchors and/or seat belt to securely attach a forward-facing car seat to the vehicle. Utilizing the top tether strap allows for less seat movement and reduces the chance of injury in a crash. Therefore, you should never neglect this important step when installing and using your child’s car seat.
Locating your vehicle’s tether anchor can be confusing in some pickup trucks. In some vehicles, you may need to tilt the seat forward to access an anchor that is located along the back wall. In others, you may need to use a rerouting loop to attach your tether to a loop or anchor in another area of the vehicle. Your truck’s manual should have detailed information on where and how to access its child restraint attachment hardware.
Once you have located your truck’s tether restraint system and securely fastened your tether strap, you can proceed to installing your car seat as normal using the LATCH or vehicle belt per your seat’s instructions.
Turn off the front passenger airbag
It is critical (and even legally required in some states) to turn off your vehicle’s front passenger airbag system if a child is going to be riding there. The deployment of airbags can seriously injure a small child. While airbags are dangerous for front-facing children as well, it is especially important to never use a rear-facing seat with an active front passenger airbag.
Some vehicles use automatic sensors to detect occupants and will automatically disable the passenger airbag if it detects the presence of a small child. If this is the case for your vehicle, you should see a passenger airbag indicator light somewhere on your dash or screen. Other vehicles use a passenger airbag switch or button in order to manually switch between on and off. This is usually done with a key.
If you are having trouble locating your vehicle’s airbag controls, refer to your vehicle’s owner’s manual.
Get an inspection
Even if you think you have followed all the steps from your car seat’s instruction manual and the vehicle’s owner’s manual, you may have missed a step or accidentally made an installation error. In fact, it is estimated that nearly 60% of all car seats are installed improperly!
Because the installation and usage of a child’s car seat in a single cab truck can be tricky, and it is especially critical to get these steps right when a child is riding in the front seat, it is a smart idea to get your seat installation double-checked by a Certified Passenger Safety Technician (CPST or CPS technician).
Visiting your local fire department is no longer a guarantee of a proper installation, but you can locate an inspection station near you by visiting the Safe Kids website or the NHTSA Technician Directory.
If you have any questions or concerns about the installation and usage of your child’s car seat, it is always recommended to visit a car seat inspection station.