Many parents are careful to thoroughly babyproof homes when bringing home a baby, but typically, families will find a great car seat and consider child vehicle safety done. Unfortunately, the reality is that mundane tasks like driving to school, daycare, or even just running errands could be the most dangerous thing you do every day with your children.
Each year, an average of 37 children die from vehicular heat strokes. Worse, motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death for children younger than 13. They cause one of every four unintentional injury deaths. And worse than that: many of these deaths are preventable, as 38 percent of the children who died in a crash in 2013 were not even buckled up.
Statistics like these can be jarring and may leave parents feeling helpless. But the fact is that there are many steps parents and caregivers can take to childproof or babyproof a car. Follow these tips to make your vehicle safer for children and reduce their risk of injury or death in your vehicle.
Find and Use the Right Car Seat for Your Child
Car seats save lives, especially when they are used properly. In fact, they can reduce the risk of death for children in motor vehicles by as much as 71 percent. But that's assuming perfect use, and unfortunately, that is rarely the case, as up to 95% of parents make at least one error in car seat use after leaving the hospital with their baby.
Car seats should be used at all times. It is particularly important that parents use the correct car seat for each child's height, weight, and age. It's best to use rear facing and five point harnessed car seats for as long as possible until children outgrow their seat and would be safer in the next size up.
There are many considerations to keep in mind for proper car seat usage. Visit our Ultimate Car Seat Safety Guide to learn everything you need to know about choosing, installing, and using your car seat properly.
Safe Driving Habits for Parents
Parents should be careful to drive safely any time, but especially when children are in their vehicle. It's important to practice safe driving techniques, follow the rules of the road, and avoid distractions.
- Never drive distracted: Leave your cell phone in the back seat, avoid drinking, and do your best to not let kids interfere with your concentration on safe driving. You can set a good example by explaining to children that you can't turn around to talk to them or help them with something while you're driving, as it is important to safety. If it can't wait, pull over to attend to their needs.
- Follow local traffic laws: Traffic laws are written with safety in mind, and drivers (and young passengers) will be safer when these laws are followed. Avoid speeding, reckless driving, and running red lights.
- Avoid road rage: Accidents aren't the only danger on the road. Aggressive drivers can become dangerous or even attack you -- while your children are in the car. Stay calm and keep your cool, letting aggressive drivers pass you and move on.
- Wear your seat belt: You wouldn't get in your car without putting your kids in their car seats, so don't drive without a restraint yourself. By wearing your seat belt every time, you'll be modeling safe behavior. You'll also avoid becoming a dangerous projectile that could harm your children if you're involved in a crash.
- Maintain your vehicle: It's not always easy to keep up with kids and a vehicle maintenance schedule on top of everything else, but for safety's sake, do your best. An overheated engine or blown tire can derail your day and even put your family at risk for a dangerous accident or leave you on the side of the road. Keep up with oil changes, scheduled service, and tire pressure and maintenance.
Smart Vehicle Safety Tips Parents Can Use
There's car safety for children beyond safe driving and car seat use. Child locks, never leaving children unattended, and securing all items in your vehicle are just a few of the ways you can make your vehicle safer for kids.
- Never leave children unattended in a vehicle: Anything could happen if you leave your children unattended in your vehicle. It could be hit by another driver, they could get out of the car and go missing, they could be abducted, your car could be stolen, or it could become dangerously hot or cold. You could even forget you left them in the car, as unlikely as that sounds.
- Give yourself a reminder that children are in the back seat: Children die when forgotten in hot or cold cars, and often, their deaths are an unfortunate mistake as parents simply forget they are in the car. Even if you think you'd never forget your child, take precautions to remind yourself they're in the back every time you drive them. Leaving a purse, cell phone, wallet, or even a shoe in the back seat will prompt you to look in the back seat and remember them. You can develop a habit of looking in the front and back of your vehicle every time you leave whether a child is in the car or not. A stuffed animal, child's bag, or other item you'll notice can be placed in the front seat. It's also smart to ask child care providers for help, requesting that they call you if your child is not in class when they expect him or her to be there.
- Have children ride in the back seat: It's typically against the law for children to ride in the front seat, but it bears repeating: put kids in the back seat, preferably the middle seat, where they will be most protected in case of a crash.
- Activate child locks: Prevent dangerous situations with children who can open doors -- and even unbuckle car seat restraints. Switch child locks on so that they can't open the door without your help. Typically, all it takes is to move a switch on the inside frame of the door.
- Buckle and lock seat belts that aren't in use: Children may be able to reach and play with seat belts that are left unbuckled, causing a strangulation hazard or even potentially dangerous impacts. To avoid this danger, buckle and lock all seat belts that you're not using for car seats.
- Secure all items in your vehicle: Safely securing passengers significantly improves vehicle safety, but every item in your car can become a dangerous projectile during a car accident. Sports equipment, toys, even child seat mirrors can become dangerous. Heavy or hard objects should be stored in your trunk or strapped down in a cargo area. Choose soft toys to play with in your vehicle.
- Don't eat in the car: For busy families, it may be easier said than done to avoid eating in the car. But for safety's sake, it's best for children and drivers to never eat in the car. Eating while driving is a distraction, and children are more likely to choke when eating in the car, especially if there isn't an adult in the back seat to supervise them as they are eating. If you have to eat in the car, stick to soft foods that you know your child can eat safely, and watch them as traffic allows.
- Invest in a vehicle with top safety features: Safety features new and old can improve vehicle safety for your children. Dependability, front and side impact air bags, good crash test ratings, and adequate space for car seats are all important safety features. You should also look for back up cameras, LATCH car seat systems, child safety locks, automatic door locks, cargo security straps, and window locks or restrictions.
While ultimately, driving with your children is more risky than, say, staying at home in a protective bubble, your vehicle doesn't have to be a dangerous place for children. Take these steps to improve the safety of your vehicle and reduce your child's risk of injury or death due to a car accident or other incident on the road.
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