It is a conversation many parents of young children have likely encountered, but one that has come into the spotlight recently following the much-anticipated Bluey special ‘The Sign’. 

“The front seat! Really? Is that allowed?”

As part of the 28-minute special, seven-year-old Bluey is allowed to sit in the front seat of the family car because the back row of seats is filled with younger members of the family.

While Bluey’s mother Chilli makes a point to check the decision is in line with Queensland road rules – as well as stating the specific circumstances where it is allowed – it has prompted a wider discussion about the rules and safety of children sitting in the front seat. 

Episode prompts surge in car-related questions

A Google Trends search for the past week shows a surge in related queries on the topic, with an increase of more than 300 per cent in searches for “can a seven-year-old sit in the front seat?” and a 250 per cent surge for the query “at what age can kids sit in the front seat?”

“According to my 5yo the major plot point of this episode is that sitting in the front seat is amazing and when will she be old enough to sit in the front seat,” one social media user wrote.

Holly Fitzgerald says the back seat is the safest place for children to sit.(Supplied: Kidsafe SA)

Kidsafe SA chief executive officer, Holly Fitzgerald, said the organisation had experienced an increase in calls in the past week from parents wanting further clarification. 

“A lot of families have called us, or wanted some advice from us since the Bluey episode aired, which is really great because we want to be able to make sure that that best practice information is getting out there, because it is really confusing for families,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

“There’s what the law requires, but that is the absolute bare minimum.

“There is also the best practice, and the best practice shows that children are not ready to sit without a booster seat until closer to age 10 to 12.”

What are the rules? 

According to the Raising Children Network, children aged up to seven must use a child car seat that is approved under the national standards and is appropriate for the child’s age and size.

Children seven and over must continue to use a suitable, approved car seat until they fit a lap-sash adult seatbelt.

There are exemptions to child restraint requirements in specific cases in different states and territories, such as for children with a medical condition or disability.

When it comes to where children can sit in cars, the Raising Children Network states that those aged under four cannot sit in the front row of cars that have two or more rows of seats.

Children aged four to seven can sit in the front row if they are in an appropriate car seat and all other rear seats are occupied by children under seven.

Children aged seven and up can sit in the front row using an appropriate booster seat or properly fitted and adjusted lap-sash adult seatbelt.

There are some different rules for cars with only one row of seats, as well as rules around which types of child car seats can be used if the front passenger seat has an airbag.

What is the safest place for a child in a car? 

As mentioned above, the legal requirement is that children have to be at least seven years of age — which Bluey is — to sit in the front seat without a child restraint.

But children under 12 are “always safest in the rear seat and remaining in a child restraint until they outgrow it”, according to a spokesperson from the Department of Transport and Main Roads in Queensland, where Bluey is set.

“Children aged seven and above can legally sit in a normal seat with an adult seatbelt, however it is recommended they remain in a booster seat until their shoulders go past the maximum height marker,” the spokesperson said.

“Most children are not big enough to fit into a standard seat until age 11 or 12.”

Ms Fitzgerald also said the back seat in an age-appropriate restraint was the safest place for children to sit.

“What we do know is the front seat statistically is a really unsafe place for anyone to ride, let alone a child — an incorrectly restrained child at that,” Ms Fitzgerald said. 

She said she believed the seven to 12 year old age group were “really over-represented in the road trauma data”.

Children must use an approved child car seat that is the right size, correctly installed and adjusted to fit.(Supplied: Kidsafe SA)

What if it’s a short trip?

Regular viewers of the show know that Bluey usually sits in a booster seat in the back seat of the family car, next to her sister Bingo.

In ‘The Sign’ episode where Bluey sits in the front, Chilli states: “I wouldn’t normally do it, but this is an emergency”.

Ms Fitzgerald said each car trip, no matter how long, should be treated equally. 

“So, what we want to see is that all children are restrained properly in the car and are properly protected on every trip,” she said.

“Because, like we always say here … if you’re going to have an accident, you never know what day that’s going to be, when that’s going to happen, how far you’re going to be from home.

“So, every trip that a family makes, the children have to be restrained properly.”

How can you check if your child is ready for a seatbelt?

There is a checklist to help identify whether a child is ready for a seatbelt.(Supplied: Kidsafe SA)

If your child has exceeded the maximum size limits of their car restraint or booster seat, Kidsafe SA has a five-step checklist to see if they are ready for an adult seatbelt.

It includes: 

  • 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 low across the middle of the shoulders?
  • Is the lap belt sitting low across the hips touching the thighs?
  • Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?

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