With all of our rushing around, we can easily forget how important it is to take it easy when driving with kids. That said, certain strategies will make life on the road easier for your family.
It’s the $18,000 or $40,000 dollar question. Do you have the right car for your family now that there’s a baby on the way? Can you get by with the sedan you’re driving, or should you be looking for something that will better fit your lifestyle.
According to David Champion, director of Consumer Reports’ Auto Test Division, if you spend time researching your options before physically looking for a car, you will end up with the best possible vehicle for your expanding family. But even if you buy the car of your dreams, there are important safety measures that all caregivers should follow in order to keep everyone safe and comfortable while in the car. A little preparation goes a long way in keeping your family car safe, organized and hassle-free while on the road. You’ll reduce your family’s stress during trips and routine commutes, and feel more in control.
Eliminate Flying Objects
Serious injuries can occur in an accident from heavy objects flying through the car. Objects such as coolers, tool boxes, portable video systems and anything large enough to cause injury should be kept low to the car’s floor and tied down when possible, or in the car’s trunk. If there is no trunk, as in the case of a van, station wagon or SUV, keep heavy objects secured in a box or a cargo net. Keep in mind that while objects on the floor are less likely to fly forward in a crash, in the event of a flip, even items on the floor may become airborne missiles.
One common item that is usually overlooked as a potential source of injury in a crash is a child’s booster seat. If the child isn’t riding in the seat, it can become a projectile when not buckled down. Other car seats can pose the same risk if left loose atop the seat, so either buckle them in or place them in the trunk.
Proper use of car seats reduces the likelihood of a child being injured or killed by as much of 75 percent, according to the Safe Kids Campaign, a national initiative to promote car seat awareness. With all of the information available to parents on proper safety seat usage, there are still parents not getting the message. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), while child restraint use is up, improper use of them continues to be high. Nearly 73 percent of all child restraints are used improperly, needlessly exposing children to an increased risk of death or injury.
“Parents and caregivers should take time to understand how to better protect children of all ages,” says NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey W. Runge, M.D. “Child safety seats are very effective when used properly,” he adds. Please review the adjacent information on car seat safety before installing a seat in your vehicle for a new baby or older child.
Every car, even if it’s just used for errands around town, should contain a few essential items. If you have a cell phone, make sure it’s fully charged and keep a car adapter on hand. Check to make sure the spare tire is in good condition and all tire-changing equipment such as jacks and wrenches are present. It’s also a great idea to learn how to change a tire; many people don’t know how.
Keep a roadside emergency kit maintained with the following items: Jumper cables, four 15-minute roadside flares, two quarts of oil, gallon of antifreeze, first aid kit, extra fuses, flashlight and extra batteries, screwdrivers – both flat head and Phillips, pliers, tire inflator (such as “Fix-A-Flat”), tire pressure gauge, rags, duct tape, pocket knife, ice scraper.
Though you’ll want to pack a bag in preparation for each individual outing, a kit containing “necessities” is nice to have in the car at all times, just in case. These items may vary depending on your children’s ages, but there are a few things that are universally appreciated. Baby wipes top the list, even when you don’t have babies!
Available in tubs, pop-up dispensers, travel kits or individual-sized packets, they are essential for wiping sticky hands and faces and cleaning up spills. Sunscreen is another must-have. Include bags to clean up trash, paper towels, tissues, bottled water, hand sanitizer, and a blanket both for snuggling and to spread on the ground for picnics. And don’t forget maps!
Traveling with babies, whether long-distance or to the supermarket, presents additional challenges.
“I always keep diapering supplies in the car in case of emergency,” says Bridget Torrance, mother of one. Her car kit also includes a shopping cart seat cover, because she’s found that many times shopping carts either have no seatbelt or are dirty. A sling is also helpful to have for babies, she says. “I don’t always keep a stroller in the car, but I do store a sling in the backseat for emergencies. One time our car broke down on the freeway and I had to hike several miles to a gas station. Having the baby close to me in the sling made a frightening, unsafe situation a bit more comfortable for both of us.”
Be sure to take advantage of the many products available to help keep your car organized. Organizers made for the backseats are available with elastic netting or snap pocket to keep toys and other items in easy reach for backseat passengers. Visor organizers can hold items such as insurance cards, registration, a small phone book and more. Cargo nets are helpful for owners of minivans and other vehicles that don’t have separate trunks; they keep objects secure and can even hide them from potential thieves. Consider a sturdy nylon bag or a box in your trunk for storing that emergency kit and keeping it all in one easily accessible place.
No matter what you drive, it’ll be a fabulous family car if you plan ahead and keep a fully stocked survival kit. By factoring in safety as well as convenience, you can make sure that every trip your family takes is a good one.
Pamela Kock is a freelance writer.
- Keep diversions handy. Take turns deciding what music or stories on tape will be played. Remember that driving in a car is a great time to practice the alphabet, counting to 100, spelling and/or basic math computation. Also allow kids to bring a book with them or an easy-to-manage toy of some kind.
- Noise patrol: Don’t allow rowdiness while on the road; it’s too distracting. If kids begin fighting, give them one warning, then pull over to safety in order to quiet them down.
- Lock your car when you’re not using it and keep keys out of your child’s reach.
- Never, ever leave children alone in a car and don’t allow them to play in the car when you’re not there.
- Keep the trunk locked.
- Use window shades to keep the interior cool and keep towels handy to place on seats that have gotten too hot in the heat.
- Show kids ages 3 and older how to open a locked door from the inside. If your child accidentally locks himself in and can’t get out (with the keys inside) call the police immediately.
- Never participate in road rage. Think of your children first before any other disrespectful driver.
- Try not to make cell phone calls when driving with children in inclement weather.
CAR SEAT SAFETY
When used correctly, car safety seats can help prevent death and injury to children during crashes. Learn proper use of car seats from the National Safe Kids Campaign:
- Use a car seat appropriate for your baby’s age and weight. Children should ride in a rear-facing infant or convertible car seat until they are at least 1 year of age and weigh at least 20 pounds. Infants who weigh 20 pounds before age 1 should ride in a rear-facing convertible seat until both criteria are met.
- Keep kids in the back. Children younger than 12 should always ride in the back regardless of whether the car’s front seat has air bags or not. The back seat is proven to be the safest place for children to ride.
- Make sure the car seat is properly installed. When installing a car seat, be sure to follow the car seat instructions and consult the car owner’s manual as well. Set the car seat at a 45-degree angle to prevent the infant from slumping over. If the car seat does not have an adjustment knob, a firmly rolled up towel can be wedged under the car seat below the baby’s feet to achieve the proper reclining position. When you have the car seat in the proper position, put your entire body weight on the car seat while buckling the seatbelt. Once the seatbelt is buckled and the movement prevention clip is attached to the seatbelt, test the installation. A properly installed car seat should never move more than one inch in any direction. If it does, start again. To have a professional inspect your installation or perform it for you, call Safe Kids of Cumberland Valley at 343-1506 or visit safekids.org.
- Select the right car seat for your baby. Many experts recommend using a car seat with a five-point harness for the most secure fit. When properly used, you shouldn’t be able to fit more than one finger between the harness and the baby.
For more information on car seats and installation, speak with your pediatrician or visit the American Academy of Pediatrics at aap.org, Safe Kids of Cumberland Valley at safekids.org or the National Highway Traffic Administration at nhtsa.gov.
Questions to consider include:
- How many kids will you be carrying?
- How old are your children?
- How much cargo space do you need?
- How adaptable is the vehicle?
- What conditions will you be driving in?
- How important is fuel economy?
- What safety equipment is included?
Best Cars (Consumer Reports 2004)*
Best Sedan: Honda Accord
Best Small Sedan: Honda Civic
Best SUV: Honda Pilot
Best Minivan: Toyota Sienna
Best Small Wagon: Pontiac Vibe
Best Small SUV: Subaru Forester