Most parents can tell you that driving children around can be an ordeal – the commute to school, grandparents, day care and perhaps worse, long holidays is challenging at best. But the chaos of keeping bored siblings from arguing or snacks flying over the seats, should not distract the driver from the most important element of transporting kids… safe in cars.
Edna de Sousa, Product and Marketing Manager of Auto Mart, has the following tips for ensuring that your kids are safe in and around the car:
- Do not let your young children sit in the front of the car
“Many manufacturers advise that children do not sit in the front seats where there are air bags. Should the air bag be deployed, children are at risk for serious injury,” says De Sousa. “The advisement is that children should sit at the back of the car until the age of 12. Newer vehicles have advanced frontal air bags that use sensors to detect the severity of the impact and can suppress the air bag deployment if a child is sitting there, but it’s not a given. The safest place for a child is the rear seat, but if that is not available, push the seat back as far as practical and ensure that they are buckled up. Read your manufacturer’s guide if you are unsure.”
- Buckling Up
De Sousa also says that small children should not be allowed to sit on an adult’s lap under any circumstances. “Your grip might seem tight enough, but you cannot rely on that in the event of a collision. Make sure that your child has a car seat appropriate for their age and keep them buckled up.”
There are lots of different seats to choose from, of course, and the right one varies according to a child’s age. “From birth to age 3, rear-facing car seats are advised, whilst a front-facing seat can be used from age 1 to 7. Depending on their size and the make of car, children can start using seat belts from the age of 8 and up. Use each car seat until they reach the top height and weight limits stated by the manufacturer.”
A general rule of thumb to use for seat belts are that children should be tall enough to sit in the seat without slouching and can keep their knees naturally bent over the edge of the vehicle seat, with their feet flat on the floor. “It has to fit snuggly across their thighs, not their stomach, and lie snuggly across the shoulder and chest, not the neck or face.”
Booster seats can also be used from age 4 onwards to ensure that the seat belt fits properly.
- In and around the car
It can be difficult to spot children from the driver(‘s) seat, which means that it’s very important to teach children not to play around cars. “Always physically walk around the vehicle to make sure there aren’t children in the driveway, and teach them never to play around the car. Keep the keys out of their reach at all times,” De Sousa says.
Heatstroke is the leading cause of vehicle-related deaths for children not caused by a collision and De Sousa warns parents not to leave children in a vehicle unattended. “It doesn’t matter how short the stop is, or if the windows are rolled down, or even if the weather doesn’t look that bad, it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
- Keep seat belts away from children
Children can easily start to play with seat belts during car trips, and can get entangled in them fairly quickly. “If you aren’t using the seat belt, buckle and lock it. Electric windows can also cause a jam when children play with it – if they are climbing around the backseat, they may inadvertently trap a finger or arm with the window,” she warns. “The best thing you can do is keep them restrained in their car seats during the journey, and if something does go awry, you can usually disable the windows by turning off the ignition.”
- Keep calm and carry on
Lastly, De Sousa advises that parents remain calm and take a breather before getting in the car with their children. “It’s easier said than done, but sometimes it’s better to take things slow and arrive late than drive off in a rush and make mistakes,” she says. “Make car safety part of your routine and absolutely refuse to start the car unless everyone is buckled up. Teach your children to respect the car and the driver and talk to them about car safety from a young age.”