Auto accidents are one of the leading causes of mortality for children under 18. But the risk of accidents can be greatly reduced if you apply a few safety precautions. In this article, we’ll outline some general principles on how to keep your children safe and how to apply this advice with children of all ages
Safe and Secure
Parents know that their infants need to be in a car seat. Instead of agonizing over figuring out how to install the car seat, ask a mechanic or a police officer/EMT at a public session to verify it is installed correctly. However, this is only a start.
Model proper behavior for your children by always wearing your own seat belt instead of only reminding them that seat belts keep them safe. Get in the habit of strapping your children into the car seat first so that you give it your full attention first and foremost instead of strapping yourself in and trying to strap in the child while reaching around the driver’s seat. And, the child’s car seat should always be in the back of the car. Your child shouldn’t be sitting up front until they hit middle school. This is a necessity because front dashboard airbags are designed to hit adults; they can kill an infant in a car seat, and won’t work as designed for a four year old.
Don’t leave your child in a horizontal car seat if they are starting to sit up. Move the car seat into a vertical position. Ensure that the straps fit properly around the child, not so loose that they don’t secure the child in an accident nor so tight it impeded breathing. As your children get older, teach them not to play with the strap. The common game of seeing how much slack they can get out of the shoulder belt leaves it unable to restrain them properly during a car accident, while opening and closing buckles out of boredom leaves them completely unprotected.
You should teach older toddlers not to open the car seat latch, but for younger infants and toddlers the best solution is a good set of toys in the back to keep them otherwise engaged. As your child grows, switch from an infant car seat to a booster seat. Booster seats are legally required in a number of states until a set age or weight threshold is reached. Know the rules for your jurisdiction to avoid getting a ticket.
Many cars have “child locks” such that you can choose to lock the car from the inside, but retain the ability to open it from the outside. This prevents a preschooler from opening the door and tumbling out, whether the car is moving or at a stop. You may need to flip the switch built into the door to engage the child lock.
When you are riding in someone else’s car, take your child’s car seat or booster seat. It isn’t safe to take all these precautions in your own vehicle and then ignore them altogether when you’re relying on someone else to drive.
Another variation of this theme is keeping things secure in the vehicle. Put cups in cup-holders when you’re driving. Give young children sippy cups instead of being worried about spills. Have school aged children secure backpacks and sports gear in storage nets in the trunk instead of stacking them up around the kids in the back seat. Then there’s the fact that loose items could become dangerous projectiles if you slam on the brakes hard or get in a wreck. Heavy items need to be secured in the trunk, or at worst, in the footwell of the car. They shouldn’t be sitting loose in the back seat where they could hit your passenger in the front seat if you’re in an accident.
Say No to Angry and Distracted Driving
Parents know not to drive drunk. Just as distracting is angry driving. Two children fighting in the back seat is as distracting as checking a cell phone while driving. If you’re angry and yelling or constantly looking back at what the children are doing, you aren’t paying attention to the road. It is safer to pull over and discipline the children than try to police them from the front seat while driving. (And yes, you can get a ticket for this from the police if they see you aren’t giving the road your attention.) Don’t try to drive with a screaming hungry baby in the back. Pull over and feed the baby.
When your teen is learning how to drive, limit them to only driving with a family member or one peer in the vehicle with them. For every friend who joins them in the car, the risk of an accident goes up ten to twenty percent. The more friends there are in the car, the more distracted the driver. Also set ground rules that there is to be no horseplay when people are in your car. An adult can get in a wreck when hit in the back of the head by a child’s toy; the odds it will happen if your teenager is tugged or slapped while driving is even greater.
Teach your children never to text and drive. This includes not taking a selfie unless you’re safely pulled over. Set the example by not answering the phone while driving unless the phone can be answered via a voice command to the car infotainment system. If your child is involved in a car accident in Baton Rouge and texting while driving is at fault, you’ll have no choice but to work with a reputable car wreck attorney Baton Rouge or you might expose yourself to severe litigation.
If your child is found to be engaged in distracted driving, enforce hard limits and strong consequences like taking away the keys for two weeks or longer. The inconvenience may lead to whining, but you’ll feel far worse if your college student keeps up this habit and lands in the hospital.
No, You Can’t Wait in the Car
Never leave a sleeping infant alone in a car. You may assume that you’ll be back in a few minutes and that disturbing the sleeping child is worse than leaving them in the car. However, this leads to risk of your child becoming too hot or feeling unwell. You also risk charges of child endangerment if someone reports a baby or toddler left alone in a car.
Children may ask not to have to go into the post office or the grocery store while you’re running errands. The answer should be no. Leaving a car running so that the vehicle is air conditioned leaves it an ideal target for would-be thieves. Teenagers may be able to stay in a vehicle unattended, but they need to keep the doors locked whether or not the vehicle is running.
Here Comes the Bus
Many parents pick up their child from the bus stop to ferry them to other activities. Always stay at least fifteen feet back from the stopped vehicle. Never try to go around the stopped bus, nor should you try to drive through a line of children entering or exiting the bus. When your children are trying to board the bus in the morning, make certain they wait until your vehicle has stopped before they try to get out of the car and run to the bus. Teach them to look both ways before exiting the vehicle, and inform them that if they are late for the bus, you’ll drive them yourself. Also tell your children never to accept a ride from a stranger.
For teenagers, the temptation to ride in a friend’s car is strong. Set strong consequences if your teenager gets in the car with a friend without permission or rides in a vehicle driven by someone without permission. A 15 year old driving a car without the parents’ knowledge is a dangerous driver, and your child getting in the vehicle is now a distraction for that inexperienced driver.
Staying Safe around Vehicles
Don’t forget to teach your children about proper safety around cars themselves. Cars are not friends. Big cars don’t see little children. You cannot stand in the street and hold up a hand and stop every vehicle. The trunk is never, ever an acceptable hiding place during hide and seek.
If you want to insure your children’s safety, teach them to secure themselves in their seats and secure loose items that become a hazard when the car comes to a hard stop. Model proper behavior by not engaging in angry or distracted driving and give your teens hard consequences if they do it. Don’t let young children wait in the car, and teach your children proper behavior around school buses, both when getting on and off the bus to walk home and when leaving your vehicle to get on the bus. Teach your children to stay out of the car unless the family is getting into the vehicle, and finally, don’t leave your children alone in the car.