You’ve spent hundreds of dollars and countless hours installing door latches, specialized toilet seat locks and plastic outlet covers inside your home. You may think your adventures in childproofing are over. However, you still need to secure one more area: the family car. There are several hidden dangers in your vehicle, aside from an improperly installed car seat. Learn to identify the hazards in your vehicle and how to turn the ride into the safest and most enjoyable experience possible.
Preparing the Car
Before you install the car seats, turn your vehicle into a baby and child-safe environment. If the car is equipped with child safety locks, turn them on. Otherwise, pay attention that the doors are locked whenever there is a child in the vehicle. Remove any loose objects, including hard toys, books or even your extra coffee mug from the back seat. These items can easily become a danger. Keep any necessities, including the child’s toys, maps and CD cases organized in a travel carrier. Choose a model that straps to the back of the seat to create a clutter-free vehicle.
Installing a Car Seat
According to the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3 out of 4 car seats are not installed properly. The NHTSA also asserts that approximately 8,959 children’s lives were saved because of car seats or restraints between 1975 and 2008. The next step to creating a safe environment is through proper car seat installation and size. Follow the manufacturer’s suggestion based on the child’s age, height and weight. Keep children under 2 in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible. Once your child is ready for a front-facing or booster seat, keep him in the middle seat. Keep children under 13 in the back seat as well.
Now that you’ve chosen the correct model car seat, it’s time for installation. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions. If they’re unclear, or you’re still unsteady about the process, here are a few hints:
- Learn about the LATCH system. LATCH, or Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, is a safety system installed in several vehicles after 2002. Under the LATCH system, the front-facing car seat is secured directly to the seat with upper and lower attachments instead of the seat belt. Consult your manufacturer’s instructions, or the manufacturer itself, to learn how the LATCH system works in your vehicle.
- If your car isn’t fitted with the LATCH system, make sure that you install the seat belt through the correct grooves. Pull the belt as tightly as possible and pay attention that it doesn’t move more than one inch in any direction, to ensure the child is secure.
- Pay attention that the front-facing seat is pushed against the back and bottom of the seat. Use your body’s weight to press down and back on the seat during installation to ensure it’s completely stable.
- Adjust the seat’s harnesses to ensure they’re snug and flat against the child’s chest. If the child is uncomfortable, adjust the straps as necessary. Place a rolled blanket or towel around a newborn to ensure the fit is secure.
If you’re still having trouble with installation, sign up for a car seat workshop in your area. The workshop teaches you how to install the seat correctly and provides useful tips on your how to keep your infant or child safe inside the vehicle.
Car Rules and Safety
Designate a set of strict car rules for everyone involved, including the parents, and adhere to them, no matter the situation. Before you start, pay attention that everyone is buckled in properly. Provide plenty of distractions in the form of toys, DVDs, crayons and paper or books to keep the kids occupied on the road. When not in use, keep these distractions secure; install a travel carrier for maximum safety. If the kids begin to fight, whine because they’re hungry or the baby needs a pacifier, pull over. Resolve any conflicts, provide snacks or soothe the baby while you are stationary.
Other Safety Concerns
You’ve installed the car seats properly and your children are both well-fed and occupied. Your childproofing is nearing completion. Now, it’s time to discuss one of the final hidden dangers your children face inside the vehicle. According to the NHTSA, hyperthermia and heatstroke are potential threats to a child left unattended in the hot car. To ensure your child is safe, never leave him in the vehicle unattended and teach your child that the parked car is not a play area. If your child is left in the hot car by accident, call the authorities immediately and learn the symptoms of heatstroke, which include:
- Rapid or slow, weak pulse
- Hot, moist or dry skin
- Lack of sweating
Keeping your children safe in the vehicle doesn’t require expensive childproofing gadgets or the consequential hours spent installing them. Use common sense and keep distractions to a minimum, to keep your family safe on the road.
Written By: Edson Farnell has been writing about cars for several years, and been working on them even longer. Edson’s current project is sourcing every auto parts warehouse for Land Rover parts for his latest restoration.