Keeping children safe in and around vehicles requires constant attentiveness for parents. While they are passengers in a vehicle, children need to be restrained properly. During infancy and young childhood, children must ride in car seats. When children reach a specific age and size, they may graduate to booster seats for car rides. While proper restraints are important, this is not the only safety issue. Controlled behavior while riding in the car reduces distractions for the driver. Pedestrian safety while around vehicles is also important for children to learn. With ongoing attention to car safety, parents can help keep their youngsters free of injuries.
Follow your state's laws regarding seat belt and car seat usage for all members of your family. Many states have laws that require the use of restraints for all people riding in or operating a motor vehicle. Proper use of a seat belt is an important detail because wearing this restraint incorrectly could result in injuries. The lap portion of the restraint must sit low on the lap, snugly against the thighs. The shoulder portion must rest over the shoulder, extending diagonally across the chest. It is never safe to move the shoulder strap behind the back or under the arm, as children can be prone to do. Parents must always supervise the buckling of seat belts to ensure that kids fasten and keep them positioned correctly.
Car Seat Safety
Car seats keep children between birth and at least age 4 safe while in the car. Once the child is big enough, they can transition to a booster seat. Parents have a choice between different types of car seats, including rear-facing infant seats, convertible seats that can face either forward or backward, and booster seats. A child's age and size are the primary factors to consider when choosing a car seat. Parents' preference for a single-use car seat or one that can adjust as a child grows, such as some modern types that can convert from an infant seat into a toddler seat and then a booster, is another factor in choosing a car seat. After choosing a car seat, the next step involves learning how to use it correctly. Incorrect use and installation of a car seat can contribute to needless injuries. Common mistakes include not installing the seat tightly enough, not tightening the harness enough, positioning the retainer clip incorrectly, and turning a child from rear-facing to front-facing too soon. Physicians now urge parents to keep children rear-facing in the car until age two, or whenever the child outgrows the seat manufacturer's height and weight limits for this position.
Keeping Children Occupied and Quiet in the Car
While restraining children is very important for all car rides, other dangers exist in the car. Children may become loud and boisterous on occasion, which can contribute to dangerous driver distraction. To maintain control in the car, keep children occupied and quiet. Looking at or reading books, playing quiet games, listening to music, or playing on electronic devices are examples of effective pastimes in the car to keep kids happy and busy.
Teaching Children About Vehicle Dangers
When children are pedestrians, other vehicle dangers become important. Drivers backing out of driveways might not see small children, which can result in heartbreaking accidents. Parents must take special precautions to ensure that a child is not in danger before moving a vehicle. Driving very slowly and watching mirrors carefully can also prevent accidents. Teach children to stay out of the path of vehicles to help minimize risks.
Setting a Good Example
The example parents set for their children is a powerful teaching tool. Children watch parents continually to learn how to do things. Thus, when parents observe car safety rules such as fastening seat belts and avoiding distractions while driving, children will be more likely to follow these rules, too. Make a family rule that a car will not move until all occupants of the vehicle have their seat belts or car seat buckles fastened.
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- Lay Down the Law for Kids in Cars (PDF)
- Evidence-Based Effective Strategies for Preventing Injuries: Child Restraints, Seat Belts, Reducing Alcohol-Impaired Driving, Teen Drivers, Child Abuse Prevention, Bike Helmets, Residential Fires, and Drowning (PDF)
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