Any number of things can happen while you or a loved one is driving. This MasterKit will guard you against many of them. With a little planning, you'll learn the best ways to build a car emergency kit, talk to your family about road safety, and keep your cool after an accident.
Use this guide to take the mystery out of car seats and booster seats — and keep even the squirmiest kid safely buckled in.
By now it's common knowledge that little kids should be in car seats or booster seats and that all kids, of any age and in any seat, should be wearing seatbelts whenever they're in a car. But there are some finer points that can add a little extra safety — and sanity — to your daily commute or the holiday road trip.
Never leave your kid alone in the car, not even for one minute.
Never leaving a child alone in the car is probably the most obvious safety tip, but it's also one of the most important, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).1 In fact, it recommends not leaving kids alone even near a vehicle — ever. Why? The IIHS notes that "young children are most at risk of being killed in back-over crashes because it is hard to spot them when they're close to the vehicle."1 The risk is even greater if your vehicle rides high and obscures your rear vision, like in an SUV or a pickup truck.
In addition to never leaving your child alone in the car, make sure your car has a transmission shift interlock. This means the car cannot go into gear unless the brake pedal is pressed, and most kids are too short to make this work. Cars sold in the United States after 2009 typically have this feature. You can check yours by starting the car and trying to shift into gear without depressing the brake pedal. If it's impossible to put the car in gear without using the brake, you have a transmission shift interlock.
Pro Tip: To avoid leaving your child in the car by accident, try "the teddy bear defense." Place a large stuffed animal in the empty car seat or booster seat. When you buckle your baby in, move the toy to the front passenger seat. Mr. Bear is a visible reminder to the driver in front that a child is in back. When you take the child out, put Mr. Bear back in the car seat.4
Child car seats equipped with the LATCH system save young lives.
Whether you're struggling with a new child seat or even an old child seat in a new car, there are resources that can help. The Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system is required in most cars manufactured after September 1, 2002. If your car is equipped with the LATCH system, your owner's manual will give you some clarity on how it specifically works in your vehicle.
In general, the system is a standardized set of lower attachments on your child safety seat and a set of tether anchors in your car that work together to hold the child safety seat firmly in place. You can also check out safercar.gov and safekids.org for reliable child car seat information. And if you're in the market for a new seat, the IIHS has booster seat ratings and LATCH information on its website, too.
Even with industry standards like the LATCH system in place, installing a car seat or booster seat can still be confusing. According to U.S. News & World Report, 73 percent of seats are not being used correctly.2 To combat this problem, some cities even offer child car seat inspection stations, usually free of charge and typically at your local fire department or police department, where parents can have their backseat handiwork checked by a certified technician. If you're looking for the nearest child car seat inspection station, the safercar.gov site can help.
Keep your kids buckled into the right type of seats.
Installing the car seat correctly is just the first step — the next is using it correctly. The first car seat your kid will use will be rear facing and installed in the back seat — never in the front seat.1 That's to protect your baby from the airbags.
Kids eventually graduate to a booster seat (still in the back). They may need to use that seat until they're about 11 or 12 years old, depending on size. The shoulder belt needs to cross their body at the shoulder, not their neck, and the lap belt needs to be across their lap, not against their tummy. For a lot of kids, this means using a booster seat until they hit a growth spurt. And while that's probably not what your middle school age child wants to hear, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that booster seats can reduce the risk of serious injury by 45 percent.3
Pro Tip: To ensure everyone is safely seated before you start driving, make a simple rule: The car doesn't move until everyone's seatbelt is buckled. And, if anyone unbuckles their seatbelt mid-ride, the car will pull over and stop until everyone is safe again.
Don’t belt your baby in with oversized winter clothing.
In the winter, you should belt your baby in place in his usual clothes and not in bulky, fluffy winter wear. In the case of an accident, winter clothes will compress, leaving too much room between the baby and the belts. Buckle him in snugly and then tuck a blanket or his winter coat over him while he rides in the car.
Reduce front seat distractions by providing a backseat distraction for young riders.
The easiest way to provide a backseat distraction for young riders is to hand your kid a book (maybe a coloring or picture book for younger riders) to keep them occupied on a longer drive. However, in the 21st century, it might be easier or more effective to keep kids occupied during a drive with a DVD player or tablet. These can be installed in the headrests at the factory, or you can get aftermarket mounts for a tablet you already own. While entertainment systems in the front seats can be an unsafe distraction to the driver, systems in the back seat can actually reduce the number of distractions the driver has to deal with, making it a safer ride for all.