By Megan Renart
Keeping children safe in cars is an instinct as natural as breathing for parents and caregivers alike — you make sure everyone is buckled up or that car seats are correctly installed before getting behind the wheel. But protecting kids on the road goes beyond belts, buckles and maintaining a safe speed limit.
1. Kids belong in the backseat. If your passengers are younger than 13, they should sit in the backseat. Front seat belts are built for adults and can injure children in an accident or even a sudden stop.
2. Look behind you before getting out of the car. Sometimes, mentally juggling the rush of daily life and a never-ending list of things to do can make you forget you have a quiet or sleeping child in the backseat. To avoid unnecessary trauma or tragedy, make it a habit to look in the backseat before you exit your vehicle. One trick is to place an item you need, like a purse or cell phone, in the backseat near the child so that you’re forced to notice them even if they’re sleeping.
3. Get your kids in the habit of waiting for you to get out of the vehicle when you’ve reached a destination. This reduces the chance of their darting out of the car and into traffic, especially if you’re parallel parked or in a busy parking lot. Setting the child lock so they can’t exit the car on their own can be very helpful — but you’ll need to be careful using this technological fix. There have been incidents where children forgotten in a hot car were capable of getting out without the child lock set but weren’t able to figure out how to unlock that feature. In addition to teaching children how to work the locks to get out of a hot car, educate them on exiting a vehicle safely — choosing the pavement side to get out, looking for oncoming traffic and knowing how to seek help if a parent or caregiver is gone.
4. Double-check before backing up. Little kids are known to dart away from their caregivers — and that often means they go behind or near the rear of your car. Roll down your windows to hear more clearly. Use your rear camera to check for children behind your vehicle — and consider installing one aftermarket if your car doesn’t have a rear camera. Just don’t rely solely on your mirrors, camera or hearing — use those tools in coordination to avoid hitting a child while backing up.
5. If there’s fighting or crying in the backseat, pull over instead of looking behind you. If kids are in distress, it’s an automatic impulse to just turn to the backseat — but if your eyes aren’t focused on the road, that can cause a wreck. Navigate to a parking lot or side street so you can deal with the situation safely.
6. Lock your car when it’s not in use to keep it off-limits as a play area. In a child’s eyes, an empty car can look like a big, fun toy to play in. After all, turning a steering wheel, pushing buttons and pretending to drive like an adult are all incredibly appealing to little ones. Note: Holding children in your lap while in the driver’s seat — even if the car isn’t running — increases the risk of enticing children to “play car,” which could lead to potentially harmful outcomes.
Locking your car when you arrive at your destination also reduces the risk of kids getting trapped in the car, which can lead to overheating, accidentally shifting the car into gear and crashing, or getting tiny fingers caught in windows and doors.
7. Teach your kids how to use the emergency truck release lever to get out, as the trunk is an enticing place for kids to hide. And if your child is missing, make the trunk of your car one of the first places you look.
8. Teach your kids to always be alert when they’re around other people’s vehicles! Important lessons include teaching them to recognize and look for backup/reverse lights and the distinct sound of a car being put into gear.
Safety guidelines are not intended to be all-inclusive but are provided for your consideration. Please use your own judgment to determine what safety features/procedures should be used in each unique situation.