What Age can a Child Sit in the Front Seat of the Car?

Car safety is something we all take incredibly seriously as parents, but it’s a topic shrouded in a lot of misinformation. Most of us know that kids need to be in a car seat, then a booster seat, but what happens after that? Are they fair game for the front seat as soon as they no longer require a booster?

With the new school year about to commence, Transurban and Kidsafe have got all of the answers you need to make the back-to-school transition as safe (and smooth!) as possible.

The Research

The latest research from Transurban suggests that most parents are not sure when their kids can safely transition out of their car seats and into an adult seat. Transurban Head of Road Safety, Liz Waller said the figures demonstrate parents face a significant knowledge gap when it comes to keeping kids safe on the road.

“Our research shows most parents think they are doing the right thing - but the majority are still not sure when their child can transition out of a car seat and into an adult seat,” Ms. Waller said. 

“Alarmingly about a third of people surveyed admitted they make exceptions and allow their young children to sit in the front seat, sometimes as a reward.”

The Five Step Test

Kidsafe Five Step Test
Do you know about the Five Step Test when it comes to assessing your child's readiness for the front seat? 

While 72% of people believe they are compliant with the National Child Restraint Guidelines, only 3% of people surveyed can correctly identify the Five Step Test for making this transition. The Five Step Test is an assessment that parents should make when seeing whether their child is ready to fit into an adult seat. It looks a little something like this:

- Can the child sit with their back against the vehicle seat back?
- Do the child‘s knees bend in front of the edge of the seat?
- Does the sash belt sit across the middle of the shoulder?
- Is the lap belt sitting low across the hips touching the thighs?
- Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?

So what is the safest way? Where should our kids be sitting?

Back Seat Bandits: The Safest Option

Transurban is urging parents to keep their school-aged children safely secured in the correct car seat for their age and height and to avoid the front seat until children are at least 12 years of age. 

“With kids heading back to school, now is the time for parents to check their children safely fit their car seat or booster for the year ahead and take the Kidsafe Five Step Test before transitioning a child into an adult seat for the school run.”  

According to Kidsafe and the National Child Restraint Guidelines, children under seven must remain in a booster to minimise injury. After the age of seven, children should only transition out of a booster if they pass the Five Step Test. Children should only sit in the front seat after they turn 12 years old, are tall enough to have their feet touch the ground, and pass the Five Step Test. A high bar, but an important one!

A Warning to Busy Parents

Kidsafe Queensland CEO Susan Teerds said children can feel peer pressure to move out of a booster earlier than they should, however being correctly fitted in a car seat could mean the difference between life and death in a car accident. 

“We know parents are eager to get kids back to school after the school holidays and many are time-poor, so checking their child’s car seat may not be top of mind, especially when school drop off and pick ups are frequent trips and often close to home,” Ms. Teerds said. 

“Motor vehicle accidents are the second cause of all hospital admissions for children 14 years and under – it is so important kids are in a correctly fitted seat or child restraint.” 

“We understand the desire for older children to want to sit in the front seat as a treat, but it’s critical children pass the Five Step Test first and are over 12 years old to ensure they will be safe on the daily school run.”

So there you have it in black and white— keep your kids in the back seat as long as possible; until at least 12 years of age. Ignoring the advice just isn't worth the risk. 

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