September 18 - 24, 2011 is National Child Passenger Safety Week. This is a huge deal. Statistics for the last survey year (2008) show that each day in the United States, about 4 children age 14 and younger were killed in an auto accident and 529 more children were injured in motor vehicle crashes during the year. It's not just crashes you have to worry about either. Heat stroke, distractions and toxins from vehicles and car seats can also harm your child. This year, make it a priority to ensure that your child is safe in your vehicle. Following are seven great tips that can help keep your kids safe during National Child Passenger Safety Week and all year long.
Buy the Correct Car Seat
If you’re having a baby, and you plan on driving with that baby, a car seat is a must-have item. Shop around early so you can compare and plan on buying the best car seat you can. Select a car seat based on your child’s age and size and be sure to check out the car seat laws in your state. For a newborn, a rear-facing car seat is the best choice, as it will come with a safety harness. If you’re involved in a crash, the harness will cradle and move with your child to reduce stress to your baby’s extremely fragile neck and spinal cord. Keep in mind that car seat recommendations for preemies are different than the recommendations for full-term babies. Make sure you choose a seat that fits in your vehicle correctly and always refer to your specific car seat manufacturer’s instructions for installation tips. You can check for proper car seat height and weight limits at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website.
Get a Free Car Seat Check-Up
In honor of National Child Passenger Safety Week, there will be FREE National Seat Checks across the country on Saturday, September 24. Parents and caregivers are urged to locate a child-seat checkpoint, and have their children’s car seats checked out. It’s important to locate an event, especially since NHTSA estimates that as many as 75% of car seats on the road today are not properly installed. An improperly installed car seat is a recipe for disaster, but this free event can help. Use the NHTSA locator to find the child car seat inspection station nearest you. When you show up, a certified technician will not only inspect your child car seat – free of charge – but they’ll make sure you’re using it correctly too.
Register for Car Seat Recalls
Each year plenty of car seats are recalled for one reason or another. However, if you don’t register your car seat, you won’t know there’s a recall. Always register your car seat as soon as you purchase it so that you’ll be notified about recalls right away. If there is a safety recall, car seat manufacturers are required to notify all registered owners by first class mail about the recall. Your car seat should come with a recall card that you can fill out and mail in. Sometimes you can even fill out a recall card online, at the manufacturers website. If you move, be sure to contact the manufacturer with updated contact information.
Limit Distractions While Driving
Screaming, whining, chatting and other kid activities can be more hazardous then you think. In fact, in news that probably won’t surprise current parents, one AAA report found that young children are 4 times more distracting to drivers then adult passengers, and that infants are 8 times more distracting. This same report notes that 85% of accident victims cite distractions as a cause of their accident. Babies, a major cause of sleeplessness, pose another issue, as recent studies state that driving tired is as dangerous as driving drunk. Obviously, you can’t get rid of your kids, so the best thing to do is to limit other distractions you can get rid of. For example, especially if you have kids, make sure you drive only when you’re well rested and don’t chat on your cell, eat, read a map, change CDs or attempt other tasks while driving. That’s what rest stops are for. If your older kids are being obnoxious, tell them point blank how dangerous this is, and pull over until they chill out. If your young baby is screaming or fussy, never try to console her while driving. Pull over and take a break. I know you’re often in a hurry and pulling over takes time. However, being on time will never be worth more than your family’s safety.
Find a Less Toxic Car Seat
Earlier this year, HealthyStuff research found that over half of all 2011 child car seats contain hazardous flame retardants and other chemical additives. That’s not a huge shock because child car seats simply aren’t that eco-friendly. Yet, you do need one, so it pays to try and locate a less toxic car seat when possible. To see a full list of car seat safety rankings, including chemical compositions of car seats visit HealthyStuff.org. Or skip straight to the HealthyStuff quick list – 2011 Best and Worst Car Seats. You can also read our handy tips about how to buy a greener car seat.
Keep Your Child Rear-Facing and in the Back for as Long as Possible
Rear-facing and in the back seat is the safest way for young children to ride in a car. In fact, this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Administration updated their car seat recommendations to say that toddlers should ride rear facing until the age of 2 years. Other new recommendations note that kids should use a booster car seat until they are 4 foot 9 inches tall and between 8 and 12 years old and that kids who are under 13 years of age should always ride in the backseat of the vehicle.
Never Leave Your Child in the Car Alone
You may think that you’d never forget your child in the car. However, in 2011 alone there have been more than 25 child deaths due to hyperthermia resulting from young children being left alone in a hot car. Kids die every single year after being left alone in a car. Lorrie Walker, Child Passenger Safety Training Manager of Safe Kids Worldwide, says:
“The inside of a car acts like a greenhouse, a place no child should be alone. Because children’s bodies heat up by as much as five times faster than adults, this makes them much more susceptible to heat stroke.”
Not only does heat pose a danger, but kids are amazingly resourceful. If left in a running car, a child could easily pull up an emergency break or push down on the gas pedal. One good way to remember your child is in your car is to get a car window decal from Emma’s Inspirations. These useful decals remind you that your little one is with you. You can also create other reminders, such as leaving your cell phone, purse, briefcase, gym bag or other object you need, on the floor in front of your child in the backseat. This way you’ll see your child when you reach back for your belongings. Additionally, even if your car is parked at home, never leave your car unlocked – a full 30% of recorded heat stroke deaths of kids in the U.S. occur because a young child got inside an unlocked and unattended vehicle.
Lead Photo © Flickr user Joe Shlabotnik