Children under 13 must ride in the back seat, if possible

The in basket: Driving through Belfair the other day, I spotted a billboard with a surprising message.

“Patrols Now,” it said. “Children up to age 13 must ride in the back seat.” It depicted a woman officer talking with a child in the back seat of a car. Nowhere was there any indication of who had the message put up or what ‘Patrols Now” means.

I have been vaguely aware of the child restraint requirements, but thought they applied to infants and toddlers. I was surprised by the up-to-age-13 element.

But mostly I wondered what “Patrols Now” means

The out basket: The billboard is the work of the child passenger safety unit of the state Traffic Safety Commission.

Cesi Velez, associated with the unit, tells me, “Each year Washington participates in a national seat belt mobilization; Click It or Ticket (CIOT). Seat belt and proper child restraint use reduces the risk of serious injury and death in a crash by half.

“A statewide survey showed that there are two areas of opportunity in keeping children safe when riding in vehicles; improving booster seat use and children under the age of 13 riding in the back seat. For this reason, this year’s CIOT campaign focused on education about Washington’s child restraint law RCW 46.61.687 and the placement of billboard messaging.

“In addition to the messaging, an online training was released with law enforcement its intended audience. The RCW can be confusing for officers as well as parents. Enforcement occurs 24/7 although this emphasis started a concerted effort to focus on child passengers.

“I regret we did not include a sponsor on the billboard and appreciate you bringing it to our attention,” Cesi said. “In the future, it will be incorporated so that persons will know where to direct any questions.”

The law, to which the up-to-13 element was added in 2007,  includes a qualifier as regards those under 13 having to be in the back seat. It says “where it is practical to do so.” A driver can be ticketed for not complying where it is practical.

I asked Deputy Scott Wilson, spokesman for the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office, what is considered unpractical. His response: “If there is a rear seat available in a motor vehicle, then a child passenger under age 13 must be seated in the rear seat.

“If no rear seat is available, such as in a single cab pick-up truck, or two-seater sports car, then the child may ride in the front passenger seat. The child’s seat position or placement must still be equipped to adhere to infant safety seat or child booster seat requirements, where applicable

“If there are more child passengers under age 13 than there are rear seat positions, that also would be an acceptable ‘where practical’ example.  Again, the provisions indicated in the above sentence apply.

“Here’s where sheriff’s deputies observe the most common violations of (this law),” Scott said.:

– Parents placing children under age 13 in the front seat while transporting them to / from school or the store.  ‘It’s quick trip, we’ll be home in a few minutes, we only live a short distance away… ‘

–  Parents who place the child in the front seat, with the rear seats folded forward / down in order to pack the car with luggage, possessions, sports equipment, etc.  In situations such as these, the child under age 13 must be seated in a rear seat, and the driver can place some items on the floorboard of the front seat, or restrain equipment on the seat with the seat’s safety belt.”

Maybe this is all common knowledge to the parents of pre-teens, but it was an education for me.

There may or may not be “patrols now” beyond day to day law enforcement. Marsha Masters of the Kitsap County Traffic Safety group says their Click It or Ticket emphasis patrols occur in May. Mason County Sheriff’s Department didn’t know much about the billboard.


8 thoughts on “Children under 13 must ride in the back seat, if possible

  1. I often wonder where the people who write these laws are thinking.

    ““If there are more child passengers under age 13 than there are rear seat positions, that also would be an acceptable ‘where practical’ example. Again, the provisions indicated in the above sentence apply.”

    If there are more children than seats, (assuming that “more” is not “one”, who could be in the front passenger seat, is not the vehicle overloaded? This is ok?

    There are times…


  2. I have a couple questions if you could do a follow up. The RCW does not define practical. What gives the police authority to define practical over the parent?
    Also I have an older extended cab pickup. It has shoulder belts in the back but no head rests so your head hits again the rear window. I consider this unsafe if there should be a collision and have my under 13 child ride up front. Do I not get to decide that this is practical?

    This RCW is government overreach at its best. There may have been a time, but modern cars have adjustable shoulder belts and air bags that automatically turn off due to weight and now apparently a good parent can’t define practical for all the situations that can’t all be written in a RCW.

    1. I really wish people would use more common sense and we would have fewer laws and regulations regarding parental decisions and what is and isnt practical. Let’s be serious here at the age of 13 I was over 6 ft tall. In the fourth grade I was 5’6 this is taller than a very large percentage of licensed drivers….I have 5 children and they are all going to be very tall and big. Why would they have to sit in the backseat until 13 when they are most likely going to be taller than most adults by the age of 10? This should be a height requirement and not an age…so stupid

      1. Bone ossification has more to do with seat placement than how big or tall someone is. Tall children are still children with unfused pelvises and cervical spine. This is why there are a number of factors to consider in seat placement and proper restraint – age, height and weight. Not every parent is going to know about the various factors (obviously) so there are laws that help keep kids safe.

  3. I’ve often wondered about motorcycle passengers. Many times I’ve seen a child riding on the back of a bike, hanging onto the driver. No rules for that?

  4. Here is something else to considers, Has anyone seen what most 13 year olds look like nowdays. They look like grown adults. So how can they make the determination that someone is 13. My 13 yr old is bigger than me. He is over 6 foot tall. Been like that for about 2 years. He weighs about 165 and has been shaving since the 6th grade. Along with most of his friends. Now my 15 year old is not even 5 ft yet and barely breaks 100 lbs. And I would like to mention the 13 yr old girls look like they are graduating high school soon. My daughter just got her license and she is not much bigger that my 15 yr old. she barely reaches the peddle, but she is legal to drive even though she looks 12. If you dont believe me about the boys then go to a jr high football game and take a look at those boys and for the girls just go watch one of their sports games and take a look at those girls. (I know sounds creepy). But all I am saying is in my opinion most 13 yr olds look like grown people. And most have the size to look it. While some older kids dont look it. So why not go by size and not age. Because it seems odd that my youngest gets carded going through the gates on Bangor because he looks like an adult, but yet my oldest look like little kids and they dont. Kids are growing different these days. Some slower than other and others who look like the drank miracle grow. So while the law might make sense, it just seems stupid.

    1. I couldn’t agree more. My children are huge and going to be very tall, why do they have to sit in the backseat when they are going to be taller than a huge percent of licensed drivers by age 10/11?

  5. Thanks for bring the under 13 law to my attention. I was well aware that children under age 8 should be in booster seats, but I had never previously heard about this rule. This is probably typical of most grandparents. I suppose the under 13 law was discussed in schools, but it was not spread to the general public.

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