When you’re traveling with your children, you have the most precious cargo along for the ride. Even if you are driving in the safest model vehicle on the road, parents are responsible for some of the actions to ensure their children are safe inside the car. We’re sharing some tips for staying as safe as possible with your little ones in tow.
This goes without saying, but never leave your children alone in a car. You may think that running into the store for a quick errand will be okay, but every parent knows it only takes seconds for a child to get into something they shouldn’t. More importantly, on a hot day, the temperature can rise 20 degrees inside a vehicle, causing heatstroke. On average, 37 children die in hot cars each year from heat-related deaths after being trapped inside. We’ve shared additional tips to prevent vehicular heatstroke here.
When your children cry from the backseat, it might be tempting to turn around and tend to their needs, but it’s important to stay focused on the road. To comfort them, pick up a dropped toy or anything else they need, safely pull over to the side of the road.
Speaking of, toys are a great distraction during a car ride, but make sure you’re picking out the right ones. If you must have loose toys, ensure they are soft so they won’t injure anyone in case they go flying during a car accident. There are also plenty of toys that will snap onto the side of a car seat or car.
Unfortunately, children don’t have to be inside a vehicle to be injured by it. According to KidsandCars.org, in the United States, at least 50 children are backed over by vehicles each week. Prior to getting into your car and driving away, make sure you know where your children are. If possible, make sure they aren’t outside or near the car at all, but if they remain outside, make sure they are in plain view and another adult is supervising them. It can also be helpful to always walk around your car before you get inside.
The Car Seat
The car seat is one of the most important pieces of equipment that helps keep your little one safe in the car. According to Safe Kids Worldwide, the leading cause of unintentional children deaths in the U.S. are road injuries. However, a correctly installed and used car seat can reduce the risk of death by as much as 71 percent. Here are a few tips on child car seat safety:
A car seat is required by law in all states, but the ages and other details may vary state to state. Make sure you’re aware of the child passenger safety laws in your state. This digest of motor laws from AAA may help.
Keep in mind that car seats do have expiration dates as well as guidelines for height and weight. That information can be found on the label of your car seat – be sure to check from time to time to ensure you’re staying within the guidelines.
In the past, many parents switched their car seat to face front around their child’s first birthday. However, in 2011, based on a study that found children younger than 2 are 75 percent less likely to be injured or killed in car crash if they are rear facing, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) revised their policy. Now the AAP and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are recommending that children should face backwards until they outgrow their seat – which for many is until they are 2 or 3 years old.
If you’ve received a car seat secondhand, from a thrift store, friend or family member or anywhere else, be sure that you’re aware of the expiration date and crash history. If a car seat is involved in a car crash or it is expired, you should get rid of it. If you’re throwing it out in the trash, make sure to put it in a dark trash bag so no one can pull it out and use it. Some stores also run trade-in events where they offer a discount in exchange for an expired or no longer used car seat.
To ensure you have your car seat installed correctly, follow all the instructions provided by the manufacturer. A properly installed car seat will not move more than an inch side to side or front to back when pulled at the base.
Many local hospitals and fire stations will also conduct a car seat check free of charge – call ahead to find out how to get an appointment. You can also do a Google search to discover local car seat safety events in your area, where they may offer car seat checks. Can’t make it? Try this checklist from Safe Kids Worldwide.