Kids and Car Safety
Whether you're driving across country, taking the kids to Grandma's or just acting as local carpool captain, keeping your young passengers safe should be your number one priority.
Take a Seat
Use the right seat for the age, weight, height and developmental stage. Be sure all children under the age of 13 are seated in a back seat. For more information on finding the correct seat for your child, read our Child Car Seat Safety article for tips and where to find a free car seat inspection nearest you.
Seat Belt Safety Tips
Never start the car until EVERYONE, including yourself and your child, are buckled. Additional seat belt rules:
- "Everyone must buckle up, no matter how short the trip," says Jennifer Huebner from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Setting a consistent message each and every time reinforces the safety habit.
- "Everyone should have their own seat belt," says Amanda Giruzzi, formerly of Safe Kids Worldwide. "Children should also be reminded to never sit in the car unless there is a seat belt for them. If there are only three seat belts in the back seat, then only three kids should sit back there."
- "Even if they're riding in someone else's car, they need to buckle up," says Huebner. "They should never get into a vehicle if they feel unsafe."
WHN Tip: Call Home
If kids feel like they are in an unsafe vehicle, like being asked to ride in the bed of a pickup, or if the driver seems unfit to drive, tell them it's okay to call you to come get them.
The Buckle-Up Battle
Here are a few tips to get their cooperation.
- "Keep it very simple, try to use terms they understand," says Huebner. "I have a 4-year old and we make it a game. We try to spot who isn't wearing a seat belt."
- "Show a picture of their favorite celebrity wearing a seat belt. If Derek Jeter can wear a seat belt, so can they," says Giruzzi. "Tell them that practicing good vehicle safety is a great way to be a role model.
- Make seat belt spotting fun! The first one to 10 wins a prize like choosing what to eat for dinner or what movie to watch.
- "Install a DVD player or CD player in the back seat of your car and tell them that they can choose the music if they sit in the back and buckle up. This will provide a good incentive for them to sit in back and to wear their seat belt," says Giruzzi.
- Compliment them on setting a good example for younger siblings and friends.
"Childproof" Your Car
- Buckle all unused seatbelts "Buckle unused seatbelts - even those underneath child car safety seats to prevent injuries," says Huebner. "Also, buckle in booster and car seats when they're not in use."
- Secure all pets. Having Fido or Garfield loose on the seat can be dangerous if he's not secured. Instead, use a crate, a kennel or an approved harness system for your pet. "I had my 100-lb. German Shepherd hit the back of my head once while I was driving," says Huebner.
- Talk trunk safety. Teach kids about the danger of getting stuck in the trunk and what they can do to get out. First, find the "trunk release" lever and show your child where it's located. Then do trunk release drills with your children.
WHN Expert Tip: "New cars (since 2001) have a 'glow in the dark' trunk release or a small dim light that's activated when the trunk is shut," says Lorrie Walker, Training Manager and Technical Advisor of the Safe Kids Buckle Up program from Safe Kids Worldwide. "They should understand it is not a toy but rather a help if they should ever become locked in a trunk."
- Lock trunks and parked cars when not in use and keep the keys out of reach!
WHN Expert Tip: Secure ALL loose items in your car - like books, umbrellas, even tissue boxes in the trunk or underneath cargo nets. Why? Each of these could become potential "missiles" in a crash or fast-braking situation, says Huebner, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
WHN Tip: Read your car's maintenance and owner manual for information about your car's child-safety features. Learn how to activate childproof locks for doors and windows.
Kids and Cars in Driveways
"Every year, children are injured and killed because drivers backing up don't see them," says Pamela Gordon, author of Consumer Reports Best Baby Products, 2007. "A contributing factor is that some big vehicles, such as SUVs, pickups, and minivans, have larger blind spots- the area behind a vehicle that the driver can't see- than standard size cars do."
So what can you do about them? Our experts have some suggestions:
- Adjust your mirrors. Proper setting and use of your rear-view mirrors can help prevent accidents and injuries and save lives, according to Nagelberg Bernard Law Group. Click here for tips from Nagelberg Bernard Law Group on how to adjust your car's mirrors to avoid blind spots.
- Do a walk-around before starting your vehicle, checking for kids, toys and pets. According to DrivingTips.org, "Most drivers are aware of the blind spot they have around their vehicle to the sides, but many drivers don't realize how big the blind spot is on the ground in the front and especially in back of their vehicle." Click here for more safety advice.
WHN Expert Tip: "Make it a rule that cars do not pull into or out of the driveway until all children are counted," says Walker.
- Consider vehicle system add-ons like rear-view cameras or parking-assist systems to aid in reducing your blind spots.
- Tell kids to keep a safe distance from cars at all times (about a 3-4 feet radius). "Remind them not to crawl underneath cars – cars can move at anytime!" says Huebner.
- Make a car-free play zone. "Have a separate play area away from cars for kids of all ages to play and be sure they are under the watchful eye of an adult," says Walker.
While You're Driving
Remind children not to "distract the driver while the vehicle is in motion," says Giruzzi. "Loud music or noises and lots of movement can keep the driver from focusing on the road and may cause an accident."
- Use child-proof locks on your doors and windows.
- Keep kids properly restrained in a back seat they cannot touch a gear shift, says Walker.
- Limit the items the kids are allowed to have in the back seat. This reduces the number of objects that can become airborne in case of an accident—or overly playful kids.
Taking Road Breaks
On long road trips, always try to stop every 1.5 – 2 hours. That helps combat restlessness, says Huebner.
If you're stopping—even for a quick errand—NEVER leave your child alone. In several states, it's against the law to leave children alone, says Walker. "Many adults make quick 'pit stops' to run into the cleaners, drugstore, coffee shop or in some cases their offices to get something. Unattended children left alone in cars with the motor running will want to do what adults do, DRIVE. Take the kids and the keys with you, even if it is for a short period of time."
WHN Tip: If you see unattended children in a car, call 911. It may be a situation of life and death. Learn more about the Safe Kids USA's “Never Leave Your Child Alone in a Car” program.
Thanks to all the experts and parents for your great advice! Have a tip of your own? If you have a good piece of advice - E-mail us! Include your first name and your state.
Safety12 Winter Driving Tips from Experts