Keep kids and families safe in the car with top tips from moms, dads, and safety experts.
WHN Expert TIP – Heat Can Kill: HealthyChildren.org reports that heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths in children under 15. When left in a hot car, a child’s major organs begin to shut down when his temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit (F) and death can occur when his temperature reaches 107 degrees F. While many states have passed laws setting limits on leaving children in cars, it is NOT safe to leave a young child alone in a car for any length of time.
1. 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 article for tips and where to find a free car seat inspection nearest you.
2. Seat Belt Safety Tips
- Never start the car until EVERYONE, including yourself and your child, are buckled.
- “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, a representative 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.
WHN EXPERT TIP – Call Me: “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 your child that they can always call you for a ride,” says Amanda Giruzzi, a representative of Safe Kids Worldwide.
3. Encouraging Kids to Buckle Up
- Kids refusing to buckle up? “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.”
- Use role models as examples.“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. Always wearing a seat belt in the car sets a good example for younger siblings, cousins and even your child’s friends. You should always commend them for wearing their safety belt and remind them that they are always a role model.”
- Use incentives. Have a special game or movie they can watch on a device as long as they get buckled and stay buckled. “This will provide a good incentive for them to sit in the back and to wear their seat belt,” says Giruzzi.
WHN STAFF TIP – I Pick Dinner! 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.
4. “Childproof” Your Car
- Buckle all unused seatbelts – even those underneath child car safety seats to prevent injuries, says Huebner. “Also, buckle in the 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.
5. 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.
- “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.”
- Do trunk release drills with your children.
- Lock trunks and parked cars when not in use. Keep the keys out of reach!
WHN Expert TIP – I Feel Secure: 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.
-Jennifer Huebner, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
- Read it. Read your car’s maintenance and owner manual for information about your car’s child-safety features. Learn how to activate child-proof locks for doors and windows.
6. 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:
- Test your blind spot.
- “To check a vehicle’s blind spot, sit in the driver’s seat of the parked vehicle and have someone stand directly behind the car, next to the bumper, and hold out a hand at about waist level,” says Gordon. “Have the person walk back slowly until you can see the hand through the rear window. This will give you an idea of how big the blind spot is.”
- Consider vehicle system add-ons like rear-view cameras or parking-assist systems to aid in reducing your blind spots.
- Make a rule: Walk First
- “Walk completely around a vehicle before getting into the car, even if you don’t have kids!” says Walker. “Check for kids, toys, and pets before starting the engine. Make it a rule that cars do not pull into or out of the driveway until all children are counted.”
- Tell kids about blind spots and how to play safely in and around cars.
- 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 any time!” 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.
7. While You’re Driving
- No Distractions. 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.”
- Child-Proof. Use child-proof locks on your doors and windows.
- Restrained/Belted In. Keep kids properly restrained in a back seat, that way they cannot touch a gear shift, says Walker.
- Limit the Items. Keep a limit on the items the kids are allowed to have in the back seat – that way there are fewer items to throw at the driver, says Hyde.
- Pit Stops
- On long road trips, always try to stop every 1.5 – 2 hours. That helps combat restlessness, says Huebner.
- If you are stopping – even for a quick errand – NEVER leave your child alone. “It is against the law to leave children alone in several states. 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,” says Walker, adding, “If you see unattended children in a car, call 911. It may be a situation of life and death.”
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.
Photo Credit: Sharon McCutcheon, unsplash