Dinner at Grandma’s, the Christmas presentation at your kid’s school, holiday shopping, ice skating, and about four other dinners… There’s no shortage of places to go, people to see and things to do this holiday season. If it weren’t so cold, you’d probably be burning up the road! But as you go on your merry way, don’t forget to secure your most precious cargo, and we’re not talking about that latest load of presents you just bought. No matter what else is going on, keeping the children in your car safe should come before all else. Here are a few tips to remind you about how to keep those little (and big) ones safe in your car.
Cliché, but still true: buckle up for safety!
Whether your child is in a car seat, other child restraint system, or sitting in an adult seat, buckling up is essential to everyone’s safety. A properly fitted seat belt or other restraint device can save your life and the life of your children in the event of an accident. Without it, you or your kids could be at risk of crashing into other passengers or areas of the car or being thrown from the vehicle, suffering more severe injuries or death. It’s nothing new, but it’s still the number one safety tip you should follow for keeping you and your kids safe in your car — make sure everyone buckles up appropriately, every single time for the entire ride.
You get a car seat, and you get a car seat, and you get a car seat!
If your child or a child riding in your car is small enough to need a car seat (or other child restraint system), make sure they always use it — no exceptions. This might seem obvious, but some people are tempted to forgo the extra trouble of latching and buckling when going short distances, sending their kid in a carpool or driving a carpool, or when traveling in a taxi or rideshare. Even for short distances, and even if it’s inconvenient, the safest way to transport a child in a vehicle is not in your lap or buckled in a regular seat, but in a car seat that is properly fitted to the child and properly installed in the vehicle. If you think your child is old enough and big enough to ride in an adult seat, first make sure they pass the 5-Step Seat Belt Fit Test. If they don’t pass — you guessed it — they get a car seat!
Save the snacks
Although some experts still argue against it, for much older children, having food and drink in the car might be a big help to you and, at a certain age, might be safe enough for the child (although we can’t really say the same for your upholstery). But for younger children and babies, eating and drinking should wait, especially if you are the only adult in the vehicle, since snack time should be supervised. Unexpected bumps, turns, and, unfortunately, accidents can make it difficult or even dangerous for anyone trying to eat in a vehicle, but it’s especially dangerous for a child who’s still fairly new to eating. If a child starts to choke in a moving vehicle, it will take precious extra seconds for an adult to get to them to help. So, save the snacks for when you’re off the road at a rest stop or at your destination.
Eyes on the road
This one is easier said than done if you’re driving a carpool of six hungry, cranky, excited, or sugared-up kids, but limiting distractions while you drive is one of the best ways to keep everyone in your vehicle safe. Before you pull out of the driveway, set up your music and/or entertainment for the kids (try an adventure audiobook that everyone will like!), and set up your hands-free navigation so you’re not tempted to use your phone or any other electronics while you’re on the road. When it comes to texting, just don’t. Several studies have also shown that having a phone conversation, even hands-free, can seriously impact your reaction time while driving. So put your phone on silent until you arrive at your destination, or if you absolutely must be available for phone calls, make sure you have a hands-free communication system and keep your conversations as brief as possible.
Educate your kids
When it comes to vehicle safety, kids have a role to play, too! Educate your children on your responsibilities as a driver and their role as passengers. For instance, your role as a driver is to pay attention to the road, follow the rules and directions, and, of course, keep everyone safe. The child’s role is to be a good passenger, which also helps keep everyone safe. Kids can help the driver concentrate by keeping the noise to a minimum and by following any other “good passenger” rules that you establish for them. Older kids can be given the roles of navigator or communication specialist (to answer phone calls or texts) if they can responsibly use those electronic devices. Understanding what’s at stake and knowing their own responsibilities can help children take ownership of their behavior and contribute to a safe driving environment.
Open and shut
Vehicle safety is necessary for when you’re on the road, but have you considered that there are also ways to keep kids safe when the vehicle is not moving? For instance, when you get out of the car, always make sure you have your keys and that the kids are all out of the car before you lock it. You’d be surprised at how often children get locked in cars, which, horrifyingly, can be life-threatening. Another important conversation you should have with your kids is about safely getting in and out of the car. Explain that they should only do so when the vehicle is fully stopped and a trusted adult says it’s ok. When opening and closing car doors and windows, always look around first for heads, fingers and toes! It’s not uncommon for a finger to get rolled up in a window or for a younger sibling to get caught in a door behind an older sibling (or, let’s be honest, even a parent!). When it comes to window safety, make sure the kids in your car understand that windows are not toys and that nothing (including body parts) should ever be stuck, held or thrown out the window.
Wherever you go this holiday season and in the new year, be sure to do it safely! Follow these tips and other common sense car safety rules to keep the kids and everyone else in your car safe and sound. Happy Holidays, and happy travels!