As drivers, we’re taught from a young age how dangerous cars can be, and the importance of operating them safely. But drivers are also responsible for making sure people in the vehicle—particularly children—are also protected. Take a look at some tips on the safest ways to transport young passengers.
1. Choose the right car seat—and install it the right way.
There are so many car seat and booster seat options that picking the appropriate one for your young passengers can be confusing. But picking the right seat is essential: They’re the safest way for children to ride in a motor vehicle. Entering in your child’s age, height, and weight at NHTSA.gov/TheRightSeat can help you make the best choice for your littlest passenger.
Rear-facing seats are best for children 1 and under, as they protect the child’s delicate neck and spine. Rear facing seats provide the best protection for young children, and it’s recommended that children should remain rear-facing to the maximum height or weight limit of their seat. This includes rear-facing only and rear-facing convertible car seats. Check NHTSA.gov/TheRightSeat for height and weight recommendations, and make sure the seat is installed according to the manufacturer’s directions. Remember that not all vehicles are compatible with all seats, so keep that in consideration when choosing a car seat. NHTSA’s ease of use tool can help.
As kids get older, booster seats are required until a child can keep their back against the seat (sans slouching), their knees can bend over the seat, and they can place their feet flat on the floor of the car. The shoulder belt should cross the center of the child's chest and not touch the child's neck. To make sure your child is in the right seat for their age and size, visit NHTSA.gov/TheRightSeat.
2. Make sure your tweens are buckling up.
Buckling your seat belt is the most obvious way of ensuring your safety in a moving vehicle, but it can sometimes be a battle to make sure tweens are obeying the law. If your child is resistant to wearing a seat belt or argues the car is moving too slowly to get hurt, it might help to inform them that according to a 2005 report by the NHTSA, most accidents in urban areas happen under 30 miles per hour. You can also remind them that a traffic ticket or fine for not buckling up can come out of their allowance.
3. Never leave kids unattended in a car ...
In warmer months, you might be surprised how quickly the interior temperature of a vehicle can rise. With children highly susceptible to heatstroke, leaving them unattended for even a brief period can be dangerous and even deadly. It’s also inadvisable to leave the ignition running for either heat or air conditioning, as kids can accidentally shift into gear and create a rollaway.
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4. … And make sure car doors are locked.
One-third of heatstroke deaths occur when people leave their keys within reach, or their car doors are unlocked, and unattended kids get into the car. An average of 37 kids die each year from heatstroke in cars, and 2018 was the record year for the most pediatric vehicular hyperthermia deaths in a single year—so make sure you keep your keys in a high place where kids can’t reach, and that your car doors are locked. When you’re exiting your car, make sure to check the back seat before you lock it.
5. Remind them that a seat belt isn’t a toy.
Younger children can grow idle during car trips, and often the nearest “plaything” is their seat belt, which can become entangled or trapped around their limbs or neck. It’s important to explain to them that the belt is for their safety and should not be touched unless it’s being either unbuckled or secured.
6. Teach them to avoid playing around parked cars.
Most people concern themselves with what could happen with a car in motion, but parked vehicles still pose dangers. Children who grow accustomed to playing around parked cars are at risk of injury once the driver has started the engine: The operator may not see anyone behind or in the blind spots of the vehicle. Make sure your child knows to back away from a car if someone gets in or they hear the engine. You should also educate them on the effects of heatstroke, and make sure they know they should never, ever play in an unattended car.
7. Teach them to avoid the trunk.
Kids playing in or around cars can often do things you wouldn’t consider likely. It’s very possible that a child could open a trunk and then become trapped, where rising temperatures could be catastrophic. (Even mild days can result in stifling heat inside the trunk.) All vehicles manufactured after September 1, 2001, must have a glow-in-the-dark release inside the trunk, and cars that are older can be retrofitted with one. Teach your child where the release is and make sure they can use it in the event of an emergency.
8. Set a good example for kids and abide by a strict no-texting rule.
Texting continues to be a serious problem for drivers of all ages, which is why it’s best to instill a mandate for undistracted driving early on. Tell teens that texting can lead to fatal crashes and that they should limit possible distractions—including an excessive number of passengers—to ensure they’re staying focused on the road.
9. Keep them in the back.
Even after kids have transitioned from child or booster seats, the safest place to be in a car for kids under 13 is still the back seat. In addition to keeping them further away from front impact crashes, they’re also away from front seat airbags. Those bags can injure passengers who squirm out of their seat and into the deployment zone, which is where the bags are being inflated at speeds of 200 to 400 miles per hour.
Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death for children under 13. Make sure you know the right seat for your child’s age and size—from rear-facing car seats, forward-facing car seats, boosters, all the way to seat belts—and ensure that kids are correctly buckled for every ride. Make sure your child is in #TheRightSeat at: NHTSA.gov/TheRightSeat