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Booster seats, front seats, and airbags – Safekids Q&A

Safekids Aotearoa Policy Analyst Moses Alatini answers some questions on booster seats, front seats, and airbags

Question: Is it legal to turn off air bags if a child ever needed to sit in the front seat?

Answer: According to the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA), it is legal to switch airbags off if a child ever needed to sit in the front passenger seat. Many vehicles (mainly European ones) have switches that allow the driver to temporarily disable passenger airbags, and they can be retrofitted in New Zealand (Low Volume Certification is needed for that). Furthermore, quite a few newer vehicles can detect when a child restraint is installed in the front seat and disable the airbags automatically. Consult your car’s user manual for details.

Question: Can my 5-year old sit in the front seat with a booster seat? Is there a law for this if I can or cannot?

Answer: NZTA and Safekids Aotearoa recommend that children sit in the back seat of a vehicle where they will be safer in the event of a crash.

According to NZTA, it is legal to put a child in the front passenger seat, in the following circumstances:

    • the child is correctly restrained, including using child restraints for children under 7 years old
    • when the back seats are unavailable, such as when the vehicle has no back seats (utility vans), for cars that only have 2 passenger seats, or when all back seats are occupied by younger restrained children.

NZTA and Safekids Aotearoa also:

    • said not to place a child in a rear-facing child restraint into the front seat of a car that has a passenger airbag, unless that airbag has been switched off. If the airbag is activated, the child could be seriously injured or killed
    • agree that all child restraints, including forward facing restraints, are best installed in the rear passenger seat. Evidence from research also shows that children under the height of 148cm should be restrained in a correctly installed child restraint that is suitable for their size and age.

Note: In New Zealand, child restraints must comply with these approved standards:

  • AS/NZS 1754 Child restraint systems for use in motor vehicles
  • American standard FMVSS 213
  • European standard shown by E3 (or another number depicting the European country).

Find out more

Summarised from Safekids News, June 2014.