When summer arrives, many families pack up the kids and hit the road. A family car trip is a great way to create lasting memories. But before loading up the minivan, parents must consider more than just how to keep the kids from fighting in the backseat. In fact, data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) consistently shows that car accidents are most frequent during summer months. This is likely due in part to a rise in alcohol consumption and impaired drivers during the summer, especially around summer holidays.
Fortunately, there are a number of simple yet effective preventative measures that parents can take to help ensure their children’s safety while cruising down Route 66— or any route for that matter. I recommend the following tips to help families safely enjoy adventures on the road.
- Sit properly. Before getting in the car— whether it’s to the grocery store or the next state— make sure you have a car seat that properly fits both your car and your child. I encourage families to test a prospective car seat in the actual car before purchasing it. Parents may also want to check with their vehicle manufacturer to see if a list of suggested car seat models is available for the specific car. Once you find a seat that appropriately fits your car and your child, don’t stop there. Step up your commitment by looking for additional safety features.
- Keep children protected from all sides. When choosing a car seat, invest in one that offers side impact protection. Twenty-five percent of all crashes are from the side, and these crashes result in a significantly higher fatality rate than front or rear crashes. The good news, however, is that there are car seats that offer valuable side impact protection. By looking for certain features, like deep side and head wings made out of energy-absorbent material and an adjustable head support to minimize lateral head movement in a crash, parents allow their children to ride more safely. If you’re unfamiliar with side impact protection, access useful information on the Web site of car seat manufacturers such as Britax Child Safety in the Safety Center at www.britaxusa.com.
- Get a safety check. It is estimated that at least 80 percent of all car seats are installed and used incorrectly. Every parent should take the necessary precautions to confirm his or her child’s car seat isn’t one of them. There are several simple steps that confirm proper installation and use. First, read your car seat and vehicle manual, and visit the car seat manufacturer’s Web site for installation information and/or demonstrations if you plan on installing the car seat yourself. Then have a certified CPS technician check your child’s seat to make sure it’s correctly installed. Visit NHTSA’s Web site at www.nhtsa.dot.gov for a list of child safety seat inspection stations and trained technicians by zip code.
- Don’t settle for the bare minimum. Parents are often tempted to turn their kids forward-facing or graduate them to booster seats as soon as the kids reach the bare minimum when it comes to weight limits. However, child seats with higher weight and height limits for rear-facing use and five-point harness protection provide children greater security. There are now seats available that allow rear-facing use long past 20 pounds. In fact, my own 58-pound 8 year old sits in a Britax Frontier, a forward-facing combination seat that allows use of the seat’s five-point harness all the way up to 80 pounds.
- Tidy up. Remember that anything that isn’t secured in the car has the potential to become a projectile in the event of a crash. Before putting your car into gear, take a look around the inside of the vehicle to see if any loose objects are present. Safely store or secure any toys, books or other loose items.
- Avoid multitasking. When you are driving, resist engaging in other activities. A recent report from the National Safety Council reinforced that hands-free cell phone use is just as distracting as chatting on a handheld cell phone while driving. In other words, save all phone conversations for when you are not behind the wheel. Similarly, if you need to hand your child food or pick up a dropped toy, pull over and stop the car first.
By following these important steps to protect children on the road, parents can worry less about their little ones’ safety and spend more time enjoying family time.