Child Safety In and Around the Car

Car safety for kids is a subject with many different facets. Not only do accidents on the road pose the biggest safety threat to children of all the safety hazards that exist in the modern world, but cars can be a safety hazard to kids who are playing around the house or even playing in car that’s parked in the driveway. This chapter will explore every detail of car safety for children, from driveway accidents to encouraging seatbelt use among kids. Let’s start with a few important rules for car safety:

Child Car Safety Rule #1: Seat Children Properly

Safety experts recommend that all children ride in the back seat until they are at least 13 years old. This is for two reasons: First, front seat airbags can deploy with enough force to kill a child, or even a small adult. What’s more frustrating about these deaths is that they often occur in otherwise minor fender-benders that barely cause any damage to the car. Yet because the airbag deployed and a small child was sitting in the front seat, you have a dead kid afterwards. The second and more pervasive reason is that the backseat is by far the statistically safest area of the car in an accident. So by sitting kids in the back, you give them the best odds for survival and avoiding injury in most car crashes.

Child Car Safety Rule #2: Behave on the Road!

Talk with children about the importance of behaving themselves on the road. Each year many accidents are caused by a distracted parent trying to solve a dispute that arose among the fighting kids in the back. Some of these accidents result in children being killed. You might think that kids would know how dangerous their antics can be, but many don’t make the connection between how they behave and the safety of mom’s driving. They tend to assume that adults are all-powerful robots who will automatically get them to where they’re going. So at a peaceful time when they aren’t acting up, explain to them all the different things you have to concentrate on when you’re driving, (turn signals, shifting, traffic lights, speed, pedestrians, other cars, traffic signs, etc.), and how difficult it is to do so when they’re being rowdy. Teach them that proper car behavior means…

  • No fighting
  • No unbuckling your seat-belt while the car is moving
  • No shouting in the car
  • No throwing things (inside the car or out the window)
Child Car Safety Rule #3: Don’t Play In Or Around Cars

Many things can go wrong when children play in or around cars: they could get run over while playing underneath it, they could put it out of park and end up in a runaway car, they could lock themselves in the trunk and suffocate, they could strangle themselves by playing with the automatic windows. Talk with kids about these dangers, and teach them that cars are not something to play around with.

  • Print a Don’t play in the trunk car safety coloring sheet for your kids
  • Print a Don’t play around cars safety coloring sheet for you kids
Child Car Safety Rule #4: If a Driver Appears Drunk, Don’t Get In The Car

Drunk drivers have existed for as long as there have been cars, and children have always been injured and killed by them in masses. Yet in recent years we’ve seen a troubling uptick in substance abuse or alcohol problems among soccer moms or other seemingly ordinary parents. We’ve also witnessed numerous instances where children have lost their lives riding in the car with another parent or caretaker who was shuttling a group of kids around while intoxicated. Considering that alcoholics and those with substance abuse problems are several thousand times more threatening to the children in our community than the registered sex offenders people seem irrationally preoccupied with, it’s about time we start taking this threat seriously. So, teach your kids . . .

A) How a drunk person acts and what they behave like. Give them some examples – taking turns acting out intoxicated behavior can make for a fun family experience. Be sure to include subtle examples, such as slurring speech or dropping keys.

B) Teach them to be aware Of their driver’s drinking habits, and let them know how much is too much. Generally speaking, 2 or 3 alcoholic drinks will put someone over the legal limit for driving.

C) Reinforce the fact that adults aren’t perfect, and that it’s OK to disobey an adult respectfully if you know they are doing something they shouldn’t. Tell children that if they have any doubt about whether an adult is sober enough to drive, they should not get in the car with them-at least not before explaining their concerns to a different adult and getting a second opinion.

D) If someone has been drinking and seems tipsy, teach children to respectfully say, “I don’t think I should get in the car with you. I need to call someone else to get me home,” or “you don’t seem well enough to be driving.” If it is just them alone with an adult, and that person is clearly drunk, tell them they should hide the keys beforehand and pretend they don’t know where they are. Above all, let them know they won’t be punished for trying to do the right thing.

This issue is especially important for divorced parents who suspect their ex might have a drinking problem. And since more kids are killed riding in cars driven by drunk drivers than are abducted by strangers, parents should take it seriously. These simple safety rules can save lives. This fact was illustrated in one tragic incident, when a mother returning from a camping trip with a group of kids was having obvious problems. They stopped at a gas station, at which point a call was made to family in which the kids expressed concerns about the woman’s ability to drive. Had even one of these kids refused to get back in the car with her, or expressed their concern to another adult, what followed would have been avoided.

Instead, they got back in the car. She got on the interstate heading the wrong direction. The crash shortly thereafter killed herself, severely injured her 5-year-old son, killed three young girls (ages 5, 7, and 8) from another family, and killed three people in the car she hit. Toxicology tests would later show she was drunk and high on marijuana at the time of the accident. She had been driving so erratically that even other motorists had called her in, but the police couldn’t catch up in time.

Other Car Safety Tips for Parents
  1. Remember that children are watching your every move as you drive, internalizing every behavior. This may seem irrelevant now, but it won’t be once they turn 16 and inherit the keys themselves. Much of a child’s future driving habits are determined by the driving education they receive long before they get their learners permit, in the form of unconsciously observing parental driving habits along the myriad of car trips they take with their mom and dad. So set the proper example.
  1. Get in the habit of locking your doors, even when the car is just parked in the garage. This keeps kids from playing in it. Never leave a child unattended in the car.
  1. Avoid driving with unrestrained dogs. Not only could they cause an accident with their climbing around, but even a small, unrestrained 10-pound dog in a crash at 50 m.p.h. will exert 500 pounds of force on whatever it strikes. An 80-pound dog at just 30 m.p.h. will exert around 2,400 pounds of force.