We see a lot of parents concerned about protecting their kids from disease, but it’s important to remember that the most dangerous thing in their lives might be something your family uses every day: the car. In the US, traffic accidents are the leading cause of death among young people ages 5-24.
Keeping your kids safe in and around cars starts with educating them and the adult drivers in your household. Safety recommendations will change as your child grows, so if you have multiple kids, it’s important to set and enforce rules for each of them.
In the Car
If you have an infant or toddler, choosing the right car seat – and installing it properly – is probably the most important step a parent can take. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. You can get your car seat inspected by an expert for free through the NHTSA’s (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) Child Car Seat Inspection Station program.
It’s also important to choose the right car seat for your child.
- Babies under one year should be in a rear-facing seat.
- Toddlers should be in a front-facing seat, until they reach the manufacturer’s weight limit for that seat (which usually happens around age 4).
- Kids under 4’ 9” should be in a booster seat, which helps make sure that the seat belt fits correctly and would protect your child adequately in an accident.
- All children under 13 should ride in the backseat, as airbags can be dangerous to a small body.
- See how to identify whether your child has outgrown their car seat.
If your car has child safety locks that prevent the rear doors or windows from opening while the car is moving, use them. Even well-behaved children may absentmindedly fiddle with door handles.
And this should go without saying, but teach children and teens of all ages to always wear a seatbelt. Model good behavior for your kids by wearing yours whenever you’re in the car together.
Playing Around Cars
It’s also smart to teach your kids to be careful when they’re on the street near moving vehicles. This is especially true of very young children, who may not understand the danger of cars.
Teach your kids not to play in parking lots while cars are going in and out. They should also be taught not to sit or play around parked cars. If your kids like playing pranks, make sure they understand the dangers of hiding in the trunk of a car (they easily could lock themselves in).
As a parent, make sure you always walk one lap around your car before getting in to make sure there’s no one in your way. If any of your kids are old enough to drive, teach them this habit as well. Many newer-model cars come with a rear-view camera or an alarm that sounds when there’s an obstruction behind the car. These are excellent supplementary features, but are no substitute for actually walking around the car.
If your car is older than model year 2010, know that it may not be equipped with a brake transmission safety interlock (BTSI). This system prevents “vehicle rollaway,” which can occur if a car is shifted out of park even without the key in the ignition or a foot on the brake. Accidents like these were most common when kids played alone in a car.
Vehicular Hyperthermia: Why Not to Leave Your Kids in the Car
Beyond vehicle rollaway, there’s another reason never to leave your kids alone in the car: overheating. According to the NHTSA, even on a 60-degree day, the temperature inside a car can rise to 110 degrees. The temperature inside of a car can increase by more than 20 degrees in only 10 minutes. So even if you’re just running into the store for a few minutes, unbuckle your kids and take them with you.
Car safety may imply some behavior modification for children, but the majority of the responsibility falls on adults. It’s important to teach your kids good habits in and around cars, and for the adults in your household to follow best practices.