If you have a child, there’s no way around it: you’ll need to drive them around at some point. Automotive transportation is simply a part of daily life, and that doesn’t change when you have a kid. You’ll have to take them with you places, as well as to the doctor, to preschool, to dance classes, and to their friends.
So if you have a kid (or if you regularly take care of a kid), you’ll need to make sure your car is ready for that endeavor. And don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with everything you need to know about child-proofing a car, and keeping a kid safe in a vehicle.
Why it’s important to child-proof your car
It doesn’t exactly need to be explained why keeping a child safe is important. You should do everything possible to keep all of the people in your car safe, and that’s doubly important with young children.
However, there are other reasons why you need to go above and beyond to keep children safe, especially very young ones. For starters, children’s bodies are less developed than adults’, meaning that they’re more liable should they be involved in an accident. A collision can cause far more damage to a child – especially an infant – than to a fully grown and developed adult.
And children can also be a little reckless. They don’t understand the importance of automotive safety. Left to their own devices, children can do dangerous things in the car, from removing their seatbelt, to positioning themselves in unsafe ways, to opening door or distracting the driver. As such, you need to do more than just be a safe driver; you also need to make your car extra safe for the children who will be riding in it, to make sure that they’re as safe as possible at all times.
The importance of the car seat
Let’s start with the basics. Why are car seats important?
Car seats are important for a number of reasons. For starters, infants and young children are simply too small to fit in conventional seat belts. Instead, they need specialized, small seat belts and harnesses to help make sure that they are as secure as they possibly can be. Car seats need to not only hold children in place during an accident, but hold them in place when you’re safely driving, as well. Car seats help keep children in a safe place at all times when in the car. The child can’t change positions too much, can’t move the seat belt into a less safe location, and can’t escape the seat belt. They’re held firmly in place at all times, so that they’re in a safe position whenever an accident occurs, or even if there’s simply hard braking.
But it’s not as simple as just getting a car seat. You need to get the right car seat, and you need to install that car seat correctly. That may seem like a no-brainer, but unfortunately, according to AAA, about three out of every four car seats are installed incorrectly. Since car seats can save a child’s life, you want to be part of the 25% that gets it right, from the purchase to the installation.
The first step is to find a car seat that faces the right direction. For infants, it’s imperative that you get a rear-facing car seat; in other words, a car seat that faces the back of the car, rather than the front of it. This is because infants are especially vulnerable, and a rear-facing car seat protects the child’s head and neck, which can save their life. A child should always use a rear-facing car seat until at least age two, but ideally until age four as well.
At age four, you can move to a front-facing car seat. There’s no set age for a child to graduate and leave their car seat behind. Once they’ve exceeded the weight limit for the car seat, or their shoulders are placed higher than the harness, then they’re ready to move on. However, at that point, it’s best to get a seat belt positioner or booster seat for a few years until the child is old enough to comfortably and fully fit in the normal seat.
It’s important that you get a car seat that fits with your vehicle. Always check to make sure that the model car seat you’re purchasing is compatible with your vehicle and your seat belts. Once you’ve purchased the car seat, follow the instructions to install it safely, and double and triple check it to make sure it’s secure.
We strongly recommend having your car seat inspected, to make sure it’s in good condition, good for your child, and properly installed. This process is completely free, and can save a kid’s life.
How to prep the rest of your car for children
In addition to a car seat, there are a number of things you can do to your vehicle to make sure that it is safe for children. For starters, always use the child-proof locks in the rear seats when children are back there. Child-proof locks allow you to open the rear doors from the outside, but not from the inside. That means that the kids in your car can’t accidentally open the car doors while you’re driving, which would be a huge danger.
Next, once your child graduates to using the normal seat belt, you can get clips that help keep your seat belt from getting tangled. A tangled seat belt doesn’t work properly. It may not hug the passenger tightly enough, and it may be delayed or unable to lock properly in the event of an accident. By purchasing a seat belt clip, your seat belts will stay in a position that is always safe. And speaking of kids in normal seat belts, don’t let your child sit in the front seat until they’re at least 13 years old, as the front seat airbags can be dangerous and even fatal for younger and smaller children.
You also want to keep dangerous objects from hitting your children if you brake hard or are involved in a collision. Make sure that heavy and sharp objects are not stored behind where your children are sitting, such as on the platform behind the rear headrests, or in a stacked and open trunk. Items in those places will fly forward when you come to a quick stop, and can hit the kids in your car, causing serious damage. If you have to keep items in these places, by a strong net or partition to go between the kids and the items, so the children are protected at all times.
It’s also important to keep the back seats secure and locked into place at all times. That keeps a child from moving the seat and finding a way to try and get into the trunk. And while we’re on the subject, it goes without saying that you should never, ever leave your child alone in the car, even for a few minutes. It’s highly risky, and should always be avoided.
Finally, always double check your children before you start driving. Before turning the car on, make sure that they’re properly situated in their seats or car seats, make sure the seat belts are snug, fastened properly, and devoid of any tangles. Make sure your kids are comfortable, that the child-proof locks are activated, and that nothing will hit the children should you hit the brakes hard.
Keep your car clean and your children distracted
One of the most important parts about maintaining a child-proof vehicle is to keep it clean at all times. Keeping a clean and tidy car is crucial for a variety of reasons. With infants, you want to make sure that there’s nothing they can accidentally choke on. Things like loose change and small items are a serious choking hazard for children. Even if they’re out of reach for the child, one bump in the road can relocate any item in the back seat, and before you know it that item can be in a harmful spot.
Even for older children, a clean car is a safe car. While items behind the children are the most dangerous in the event of an accident or heavy braking, items anywhere can cause harm, especially if they are heavy or sharp. Never underestimate how far an item can move if you brake hard, hit a bump, or make a sharp turn. By keeping clutter off of the car floor and back seats, you’ll increase the safety for all of the children in your seat. You’ll also keep the kids from reaching or stretching for items, and putting themselves in dangerous situations as a result.
It’s also really smart to keep your children distracted when you’re driving. Give infants and small childs lots of fun toys and shakers that will grab their attention. Give older children books, figurines, TVs, or video game devices. Keeping your kids distracted while you drive will keep them from getting into things that they shouldn’t get in to. A distracted child is more likely to try and move around in their seat, or unbuckle their seat belt, or change their position. These are all dangerous things, so you want to give your child distractions to keep them from exploring other options.
Besides that, you want the children in your car to be happy. You have your radio or music, but all they have is the window or the back of a seat to stare at. Giving them fun things to keep them entertained while you’re in the car is as good for their mental health as it is for their physical safety.
Be an extra safe driver
It probably goes without saying that you should always be a safe driver. We love cars, and everything about them. But even when we’re driving a sports car, our motto is always “safety first.”
If you have children in your car, that motto needs to be quadrupled. You simply cannot exercise too much caution when you have little ones in the vehicle with you. Even if you are always a safe driver, you need to be aware of the fact that it’s harder to drive safely when there’s a child in the car with you. Children are fun, and they can easily distract you. If they’re old enough to talk, your children will want to talk with you. And trust us – when you’re doing something important, like driving, your children will want to talk to you a lot. We love kids, but that’s just a magical quirk they have; if you’re busy or focused, that’s when they’ll really want to talk to you.
And naturally, you’ll also want to talk with them. You’ll want to have a conversation, or even just say things to your infants. And you’ll want to keep a tab on your children by looking back at them and making sure they’re doing okay. That’s just basic human instinct, especially if you’re one of the child’s parents.
So there are a few things to be aware of when you’re driving with a child in the car. If you’re going to talk to them, do so while keeping your eyes on the road. Don’t turn back to look at them while talking to them, unless you’re at a stop light. If you do need to check on them by looking at them, try and use your rear view mirror to do so.
Engage your children, but don’t do so in a way that takes your focus off of driving. Don’t get into an argument with your kids, or try to scold them while you’re driving. Give the road your full attention; it doesn’t have to come at the expense of your children, you just need to be smart about it.
Of course, there are times when you need to give the children in your car more attention. Perhaps they hurt themselves, or they won’t stop crying, or you need to have a serious conversation. If this happens, find a safe place to pull over and stop your car. Once the car is safe and doesn’t require your attention, take care of the child who does.
Always drive safely. But when you have a kid in your car, take a moment to think about all the ways that child might distract you, and how you can avoid that, and keep your focus on the road.
The importance of good maintenance
We’re big fans of maintenance. We always talk about how important it is to maintain your vehicle properly, and follow a strong maintenance schedule. Maintenance helps keep your car running well, saves you money, and increases resale value.
But it also helps keep your car safe if you have children in it. As we’ve already mentioned, children in a vehicle are more vulnerable. Their bones are less developed, meaning it takes far less to damage them than it does an adult. And, as we mentioned, you want to be extra safe and careful when driving with kids. It may sound weird, but maintenance helps with those areas.
If your car isn’t properly maintained, it can have issues at any time. For instance, your tires are more liable to blow. If your tire blows while you’re driving at a high speed, you greatly increase the chance of being in an accident. That accident may not hurt you, but it could hurt the child in the car. And without proper maintenance, your brakes might not work ideally. The difference between functional brakes and optimal brakes can be the difference between stopping in time, and rear-ending someone. And rear-ending someone can be all it takes to hurt a child in your car.
Furthermore, a car that isn’t properly maintained can have some harmful and toxic fumes that are dangerous for young ones to be inhaling. Long story short, always follow a good maintenance routine with your vehicle. If you won’t do it for your car’s sake or your wallet’s sake, do it for your child’s sake.
Always double check everything
If you’re a parent, or regularly take care of children, then you know the importance of double checking everything. It’s amazing how much you catch when you double check. Chances are you double check that your child has everything, that they’re tucked in perfectly at night, that they’re safe and happy if they get hurt, and that their toys are there for them. So why wouldn’t you double check their safety in the car?
Before turning the car on, double check everything pertaining to the safety of the kid in the car. Make sure that they’re buckled correctly and safely secured. Make sure they have everything they need, and that nothing in the car risks damaging them. Make sure the child-proof locks are engaged, and the car seat fits. Make sure your car has enough gas, and doesn’t have any warning lights on. Make sure you’re wide awake, fully focused, and that road conditions are safe.
The child you’re taking care of is important and precious, and they put their life in your hands every time you drive with them. You can never be too safe, so always double check everything.
It’s important to always keep children safe, whether they’re at home, at school, or in the car. Keeping a child safe in the car might sound as simple as buckling them into a car seat and hitting the road, but it really isn’t. There’s a lot you can do – from getting the right car seat, to making sure your car is child-proofed, to driving correctly – to make sure that the kid in your car is as safe as possible.
Doing these things, as we’ve described, isn’t hard. It just takes a small amount of effort, for a potentially life-saving reward. Seems like an easy call to us.