By on June 17, 2019

A 4-year-old boy in Blaine, MN, traded his car seat for the driver’s seat, borrowing his great-grandfather’s SUV. At 4 years old, I can’t imagine having the understanding and capability to successfully operate a car. But little Sebastian Swenson proved himself to be a special case.

His motivation? Reese’s candy. I believe this to be one of the most noble reasons to steal a car.

As reported by Fox9 in Minneapolis, Sebastian climbed up on a walker in order to access the keys to his great-grandfather’s Hyundai Santa Fe. Craving some sugary goodness, he climbed in the car, stretching the lower half of his body to reach the pedals. Not only did he manage to back the car out of the driveway, but he then engaged drive and rolled away. I’m amazed at the coordination just this initial portion of his trip would require.

The wake of Sebastian’s destruction

I don’t remember much of anything from when I was 4 years old. My earliest memories of being behind the wheel of a car involved sitting on my father’s lap as he let me steer us down our neighborhood street. He says I was 3 at the time. A couple years later, I would figure out how to disengage the parking brake while playing in his 1984 Pontiac Sunbird. But, not actually knowing how it functioned, I ended up rolling the car down our driveway and into the street. Little Sebastian just might be a prodigy!

The pre-schooler demonstrated exceptional navigational abilities as he found his way out of his neighborhood and negotiated rush hour traffic on the multi-lane University Ave in Blaine, MN. Top speeds reached a blistering 15mph, which is fast when compared to my 4-year-old nephew Mason’s electric SUV — which tops out around 2.5 mph.

Wanting to get a 4-year-old’s take on the situation, I interviewed Mason for this piece. When asked if he thought he could drive Nonna’s (Grandma’s) car, he responded, “I don’t think.”

Relatively minor damage to the Santa Fe

One thing that Mason and Sebastian seem to share is their steering capability, or lack thereof. Sebastian managed to collect a few mailboxes and removed part of the front bumper via a tree during his journey. Despite not wearing a seatbelt, he was unhurt though his skirmishes and successfully arrived at the Speedway gas station — just as he’d planned. I hope that his family gets him a go-kart so that he can continue to develop his driving skills in a safe environment.

My final thoughts are regarding advanced driver-assistance systems and this sort of situation. Personally, I think we need more driver training, providing drivers with Sebastian-like confidence behind the wheel, without designing for Sebastian-like driving capability. With today’s commonly found semi-autonomous driving features, it’s quite possible that Sebastian may have made it to his destination without incident. He likely would have boosted his already high confidence while making no improvement to his actual capability, though.


[Images: Fox9 News]

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18 Comments on “4-year-old Trades Booster Seat for the Driver’s Seat...”

  • avatar

    He will do it again. Parenting is a lost art.

  • avatar

    Teach em young so they have an engraved respect for machinery (automobiles included) growing up.

    My five year old can operate my 23HP tractor. He climbs in, starts it, puts the bucket and box blade up, sets the throttle at 40% and drives around the back yard. Its a hydrostatic so it stops as soon as he lets off the gas and at 40% throttle it doesn’t go over 6mph. I walk beside or behind the tractor as he moves it.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    Me thinks a Craigslist purchased 12v PowerWheels will satisfy his urge for the time being.My 4y/o loves his but unfortunately he probably won’t fit in it in another year.Hopefully he’ll take to bikes. Or maybe a shifter cart:)

  • avatar

    Childhood memory – my mom had some brown malaise era car, one of her many junkers that my dad got her since she wasn’t the best driver. For example she once took out the corner of the garage while trying to back out.

    When no one was around, I got inside, pulled on the column gear shift (didn’t the have lockouts back then?) and managed to roll the car backwards down the driveway and into the neighbors yard across the street. Luckily this was a pretty quiet suburb – no damage to anyone or anything.

  • avatar

    I’ve got a couple 3 and 4 yr old grandkids that drive electric go karts, but no idea how they would get to the pedals on a real car. Obviously this kid understands the gear shift interlock routine.

    • 0 avatar

      That kid has been observing, watching closely, while other people were driving – I’d guarantee that.

      I had a secretary who bought a CR-V during the time that backup cameras were first coming into cars. Her granddaughter (who was in Pre-K/Kinder) saw her Grandmother looking back over her shoulder while reversing. The kid says: “G-MA, it’s RIGHT THERE!” (Pointing to the image on the dashboard.)

      • 0 avatar

        “That kid has been observing, watching closely, while other people were driving”

        AI does the same thing – learning. You cannot program all complex situations in autonomous driving – you have let AI drive and make mistakes sometimes.

    • 0 avatar

      I recall 15 or 20 years ago when brake-shift interlocks were becoming standard (or my impression was that they were just then becoming standard). There was a story run on the local news about how people were now going to be required to hit the brakes before shifting out of park. Before this one could simply move the lever. The local yokels were aggravated that they’d now require this extra step. I believe they brought up a case similar to this young child rolling into traffic. He wasn’t injured if I recall correctly.

      My brother did something similar. Shifted out of park with no parking brake. He was stopped shortly thereafter by a tree; wasn’t going fast enough to cause injury. The tree required a brace for a long time.

  • avatar

    Tee hee hee what a wonderful feel good story. I dont think he said as he mowed down women and children in his quest to get candy. Tee hee hee WONDERFUL!

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah…they report this story in “feel good” fashion as though the little phucker was some sort of uber-precocious wunderkind. If he had killed someone I suppose they’d be talking about how we need “measures” in place to prevent little geniuses from stealing the family car. Let’s just hope that grandpa doesn’t have a loaded Smith & Wesson in the nightstand.

  • avatar

    Good thing this 4-year-old only committed Grand Theft Auto as opposed to that other 4-year-old who took a $1 doll from a store.

  • avatar

    Glad the kid wasn’t hurt no ran over anyone .


  • avatar

    My friend’s kid is 5 and he’s been calling me for computer help with stuff since he was 3, so I don’t see what would be so difficult about getting into a car and driving. Like me when I was 3, he could read fine, and most of his calls were “How do I do……?). Or he’s telling me about some airplane video he found or asking me if I had any good ones for him to look up. Russian car wreck videos are becoming one of his favorite things to look at to. His dad can take the blame for getting him hooked on those.

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