Children are usually eager to sit in the front seat of the car because it represents independence and being grown up, while also meaning they don’t have to squish between siblings in the back. But before kids can call, ‘shot-gun!’ they should meet height recommendation and legal requirements.
Have you been wondering how old to sit in the front seat? Child restraint regulations can differ between states in Australia, but this article will help answer your questions by giving an overview of when kids can sit in the front seat of the car.
In Australia, the legal age for a child to sit in the front seat of a car is 7 years old, with most states, including those children aged 4-7 years, should not be seated in the front row of a vehicle with two or more rows of seats, unless the other seats are occupied by younger children or there are no other seats available. Most states also advise parents to follow the recommendations from the National Child Restraint Guidelines, which are based on height rather than age.
However, each state has slightly different laws (which you should check thoroughly according to your state and your child’s age), briefly outlined below:
From 7-16 years, must either use an approved child restraint or a properly fitting seatbelt (which they won’t fit until 145cm tall).
From 7-16 years, must be in a booster seat or an adult seatbelt (which won’t fit properly until 145cm tall)
Children 7 years and over can sit in either a normal adult seat or an approved child restraint/booster.
Children 7-16 years old who don’t fit an adult seatbelt properly are strongly recommended to use an approved booster seat
Children under 7 years must not sit in the front seat, and children 7 years and over can sit in either a suitable child restraint or a normal passenger seat with seatbelt.
Children 7 years and over must be restrained in an adult seatbelt or booster
Children 7 years and over may be restrained in an adult seatbelt or booster/child seat
Children 7-16 years must be in a child restraint or a correctly fitted seatbelt (which they won’t fit til 145cm tall).
Child seat laws are based on age because this can be simpler for parents to follow, but since children of the same age can have varying heights, it is safest to go by your child’s height. The National Child Restraint Guidelines state that children should be at least 145cm tall before they sit in the front seat – a height that the average child doesn’t reach until they are 11-12 years old. This is based upon research that shows that adult lap-sash seatbelts (that most car seats, and all front seats, are fitted with) will not fit children until they are 145cm tall.
When are kids ready for adult seatbelts?
Seatbelts are designed for safety in the event of an accident, while not causing further damage. This means it’s very important how the seatbelt fits the person, as it can only do its job when used correctly. When used properly on an individual of average build (145cm and taller), seatbelts are secured over the strongest parts of the body that can withstand impact, protecting vital organs. If the individual isn’t the right height, the lap-sash belt runs across the neck and abdomen, which can cause damage to those vulnerable areas in an accident.
The SA government provides this checklist to determine whether your child is ready for an adult seatbelt (and thus the front seat):
- Can the child sit with their back against the vehicle seat?
- 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 in this position for the whole trip?
They must meet all these requirements before they are old enough to sit in the front seat (or in the backseat without a booster).
So, what age should kids sit in the front seat?
Research indicates that children under 12 years old are safest sitting in the backseats of the car, regardless of the restraint they are using and could benefit from a booster seat up until as old as 16 years. This is not only because lap-sash seatbelts are designed for adults, but because modern cars are equipped with airbags designed to protect adults - if a child that doesn’t meet the correct height for the seat sits in the front, the airbags deployed in an accident could cause significant damage to the child.
So, deciding when kids can sit in the front seat will depend on your situation and the state you live in, but take your child’s height, the National recommendations and the law into consideration when deciding what is safest for your child.
Now that you’ve got an idea of when kids can sit in the front seat, you can research the rules and guidelines in your state and make an informed decision for your family. If children are disappointed that they can’t yet sit in the front, explain that it is your job to keep them safe, and remind them it’s something to look forward to.
If you’re also wondering what age kids can go to childcare, check out this article and search Toddle to find an approved childcare centre near you.
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