Many parents clearly remember that first car ride home with their newborn. I certainly do. Car seat buckles double and triple checked. Driving slowly, cautiously out of the parking lot. The weight of our new precious cargo heavy on our minds.
As time passes that anxiety fades a bit but still, three years later, I often have jolts of the weight of it. To sit behind the wheel of a car brings great responsibility, made even heavier when a child is riding with you. There are a number of things we can do as parent-drivers to make the ride safer for kids.
- Choose an appropriate car seat. There are so many car seats on the market that the search can become overwhelming. More important than the brand or the color is choosing a car seat that fits in your vehicle and is appropriate for the age and weight of your child. The Car Seat Lady is a great resource for all of your car seat questions.
- Install the car seat correctly. This isn’t so easy to do. Studies have shown that greater than 80% of car seats are installed incorrectly. I strongly recommend that all expectant parents buy their baby’s car seat well ahead of their due date and take it for installation assistance. There are many free car seat installation and inspection stations around the country. To find the station nearest you, check out the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s helpful “Car Seat Inspection Station Locator.”
- Keep those little ones rear-facing. The AAP recommends that young infants/toddlers be in rear-facing car seats until at least two years old or until they reach the weight/height limit for their car seat. Prior to 2011, the recommendation was to keep children rear-facing until they were at least one-year-old and twenty pounds. Many of my patients’ parents are disappointed when I tell them they must wait at least a year longer, but the data on this is compelling. Infants and toddlers are far more likely to suffer serious or fatal injuries in a crash if they are in a forward-facing car seat. For me, this makes rear-facing until at least two-years-old a no-brainer.
- Once kids are forward-facing, keep them in the most appropriate restraint for their age, weight, and height. The AAP’s Healthy Children website has a review of appropriate restraints by age and size. Children should be in a convertible seat with a 5-point harness as long as possible; and at least until they weigh forty pounds. A child should be in a booster seat until they are at least 4 feet 9 inches tall (usually between 8-12 years old). Finally, many parents are surprised to learn that children should not sit in the front seat until at least 13 years of age.
- Don’t drive under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Enough said.
- Don’t drive distracted. The CDC recently released new data on distracted driving, and the news is not good. 31% of US drivers reported reading or sending a text or email in the 30 days before they were surveyed. Other distractions such as talking on the phone, eating, or applying make-up are also quite prevalent. In 2010, “nearly one in five crashes (18%) in which someone was injured involved distracted driving.” Please read Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson’s impassioned post on this topic and put that smart phone out of reach in the car.
- Stop and pull over if you need to. Children themselves can be very distracting to parent-drivers. My son really didn’t like riding in the car for the first three months of his life. He’d scream and cry so consistently that if he was quiet for a moment I worried he wasn’t breathing or something was gravely wrong (we’ve all had these moments, right?). Many parents deal with the need to see their rear-facing infant by installing those cute little mirrors over their seat. But, even mirrors have been shown to be more of a distraction than an aid. The best approach is to stop and pull over into a safe place to collect your thoughts and make sure your child is okay. As kids get older, it is frequently tempting to reach back to hand them a water bottle or pick up a dropped toy. Resist the temptation. If you really must assist your child, stop the car and do what you need to do. Then, continue on your way without so much distraction or anxiety.
Safe travels to you and your little ones.
What other car safety tips or resources have you found?