Nearly every parent worries about their child. It’s human nature. But one area where parents should be especially vigilant over their kids is in and around cars.
Why? Because despite how commonplace cars are in our day-to-day lives, they are relatively dangerous. In 2021 alone, there were over 922 deaths of children from car crashes, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
To prevent a similar fate for your child, here are eight ways to keep them safe in and around cars:
1. Get the right car seat
First-time parents know how overwhelming it can be to pick a car seat. This is because there are so many different kinds to choose from. But it’s important to know the differences. Otherwise, your child may not be secured the way they should be. Here’s what to know:
Children under the age of three need a rear-facing car seat. This provides extra protection for their fragile neck and heads. Once they turn three, they need a forward-facing car seat (some car seats can rotate so you don’t need to get a new one).
At some point, when they outgrow the car seat (usually sometime between ages four and seven), you can get them a booster seat. This helps elevate them so that the seat belt fits them properly. Eventually (usually between ages nine and thirteen), they can graduate to not needing a car seat or booster seat.
If nothing else, follow the state’s car seat laws and the manufacturer’s weight limit guidelines.
2. Buckle up
Wearing a seat belt is crucial for adults and children alike. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), seat belts saved an estimated 14,955 lives in 2017. If that’s not enough reason to have your child wear a seat belt, know that it’s also the law in 49 of the 50 states.
One extra tip for buckling up your little ones: Make sure to remove any large coats they have on. Otherwise, the extra material can cause the straps to be too loose and your child won’t be secured properly.
3. Never leave them in the car
Taking your kids everywhere with you in the car can be a hassle. The constant loading and unloading can wear you out. Consequently, there may be times when you’re tempted to just leave your child in the car while you run a quick errand. However, this can be very dangerous.
Cars can heat up by 20 degrees in just 10 minutes, and a child’s body temperature rises three times faster than an adult’s. If you leave your child in the car, they could suffer heatstroke and die. In fact, in 2022, 33 children did.
So never leave your child in a car alone. Always bring them with you and double-check the backseat to make sure everyone is out. You should also keep the car doors locked when it’s parked in the garage or driveway just so that kids don’t accidentally lock themselves in.
4. Activate child safety locks
Your car’s child safety locks are a great feature that can help protect your kids by keeping them from opening the doors and windows while you’re driving. This way, they can’t fall out of the car or get their arm or head caught in a closing window.
5. Don’t let them eat in the car
Snacks can be an easy way to pacify unruly kids or just satisfy their hunger. However, the car is usually not the best place for them. Why? Because kids could choke, especially if it’s a bumpy ride. What’s worse, you may not even notice them choking if they are in a rear-facing car seat. So it’s better to feed them before the drive and give them some toys to entertain themselves instead. Or, at the very least, give them foods they can’t choke on, such as applesauce or yogurt.
6. Drive well
Keep your kids in the car safe by being a good driver. This means keeping your eyes on the road, getting rid of distractions (no texting), following traffic laws, and maintaining a lot of space between you and other drivers. This alone can dramatically reduce your chances of getting into an accident that could put your kids at risk.
Of course, some car accidents are unavoidable. There may be an obstacle on the road or a reckless driver. In that case, remove your child from harm’s way as soon as you can and call 911. If you’re in an accident with a truck, hire a reputable truck accident lawyer who can help you get the compensation you deserve.
7. Have them look both ways (and hold your hand) before crossing
Busy streets can be dangerous whether you’re in a car or not. As a pedestrian, it’s important to always look both ways before crossing so you avoid getting hit by oncoming traffic. The same goes for your kids. Teach them early to look left, then right, then left again. That way, they learn how to know when it’s safe to cross.
While your kids are young, you may also want to hold their hand so that you don’t have to worry about them darting into the street at the wrong time. They may protest because they want to be independent, but it’s your job as a parent to keep them safe. As they get older and become more responsible, you can let them cross on their own.
8. Teach them to be cautious around cars
Letting your kids play near parked cars may seem harmless, but it can create a false sense of security. For one, you never know when a car is about to pull out of a parking space. Secondly, children aren’t always good at distinguishing safe from dangerous car situations, such as when a car is about to back up. So teach them to be cautious around cars from the start and make sure they know what a reversing car looks like (in terms of its rear lights).
Also, when you’re backing up, roll down your windows so you can hear your surroundings (such as children playing outside). Though many cars come with rearview cameras these days, many don’t. So you’ll need to be cautious of your blind spots and drive slowly to avoid accidentally hitting a child.
If you follow these tips, your child will be much safer in and around cars. And who knows? It may even save their life.