When we had our first baby 10 years ago, I really was concerned about keeping him safe in the car. I can remember being so concerned that I was going to assemble the car seat wrong, or that the bumps in the road would hurt him. I was so afraid I was going to do something wrong driving him home from the hospital. I’m still concerned and think I will always be concerned because I’m his dad. Now with 4 kids, I want nothing more than to do all I can to create a safe travel experience for them. There’s a lot of craziness and danger out there on the highways, so knowing how to best protect my kids is at the top of my list of concerns.
Here are five simple ways we can keep our families safe on the road – especially during the holiday season.
- Make sure everyone is properly restrained
- Avoid road rage
- Avoid distractions
- Know where you are going
- Keep your car’s maintenance current
1. Make Sure Everyone Is Properly Restrained
Making sure your child is properly secured in his or her carseat is one of the most important ways to protect them in the even of an accident. In the United States, each state has its own laws when it comes to age requirements for rear-facing, forward-facing, booster, and lap belt restraining. The best way to find out the age limits is to check out the Child Safety Law Tracker at safekids.org then seach by your state.
There are several types of car seats. It is critical that all parents understand which seat is right for their children, and abide by the state-specific laws at all times. Adult lap belts can be dangerous for kids if they are too young to be wearing them.
*The rules below are for the state of Ohio. All other states’ laws may vary. Consult your local BMV for state-specific laws.
Rear-Facing Car Seats
Babies and young children are required to be in a rear-facing car seat until the age of 2, or until they have reached the maximum height and weight specifications of their convertible car seat.
Forward-Facing Car Seats
Kids who have outgrown the requirements of their convertible car seat can now face forward provided they are no younger than 1 year old and weigh at least 20 pounds. They must use a harnessed car seat until they have reached the height/weight limits of the seat.
In Ohio, children can use a booster seat once they turn 4 years old and weigh at least 40 pounds. He or she must use the booster until the age of 8 or has reached 4’9″.
Lap and Shoulder Belts
Once a child has reached 4’9″ they are ready to use a lap and shoulder belt without the booster seat. Children who are under the age of 15 must use a child safety seat or seat belt until they are 15.
2. Avoid Road Rage
This is one of the hardest things for me to do, and I’m sure I’m not alone. It was one thing to lose my temper with road rage before I had kids, but now with 4 kids in the car, it’s even more important just to let things slide. Other drivers do some crazy things out there, but being a defensive driver is critical to maintaining safety for all on the road.
It’s often too easy to blow the horn, give the finger, tailgate, or stare down someone when something doesn’t go our way on the highway. No one knows better than me that this type of behavior is childish and doesn’t ever solve anything. Whenever I think about responding to an aggressive driver, I tell myself over and over again to put things into perspective and move on with life.
3. Avoid Distractions
Texting while driving has been banned in most states in the USA. Most modern cars now come with Bluetooth technology allowing for a hands free operation. As parents, we often think we need to respond to an email or to a text right away because we are so busy, but nothing is so important that we have to take our concentration off of safe operation of our vehicles. It can wait!
There are more ways to be distracted behind the wheel than just texting. With the kids in the car, there’s often a lot of screaming, fighting, begging for a movie to be played, etc. If you are traveling with your spouse, always let the one who is not driving handle the situations that come up inside of the car.
If you aren’t familiar with your car, fidgeting around trying to play a movie, changing the radio, or adjusting the temperature can all be equally as distracting as texting. Get to know your car and all of its features. Most modern cars have adjustments on the steering wheel, or even voice-activated commands to make driving less distracted much easier.
4. Know Where You Are Going
It’s so easy these days to rely upon our trusty (or not-so-trusty) GPS devices. With Google Maps, we can basically find our way to just about anywhere we want to go. It’s always a safe bet going to a new destination to know how to get there ahead of time. I don’t know about your experiences with the accuracy of a GPS, but mine have been interesting. For the most part, my in-car GPS and cell phone are usually accurate. 5 or 6 years ago, I had the GPS set to to take us to the lake house for our summer vacation, but it literally took us to the edge of the lake – literally. I could have hung a fishing rod out my window.
I make it a practice to go to MapQuest or Google Maps and familiarize myself with the directions before hitting the road. There have been horror stories of families not making it to their destinations because they only relied upon their GPS and not their actual surroundings. GPS systems can make mistakes, so think ahead and verify the directions are accurate.
If you are using your GPS as a means of getting you to where you need to go, familiarize yourself with all of its features before hitting the road. Many features, such as detour, avoid tolls, etc. can save a lot of headaches, time, and money. Some GPS units also account for construction, weather, and traffic. Knowing how to use the GPS is important in understanding how it operates. GPS units are very advanced today, so knowing all about them will help you keep your family safe on the road.
5. Keep Your Car’s Maintenance Current
It goes without saying – a car only runs as well as the condition in which it is in. It is crucial to keep a car’s normal maintenance up to date. Things such as oil changes, tire rotations, fluid changes, brakes, etc. are all important aspects of a well-performing car. Proper maintenance leads to longer car life and optimal performance. Traveling with kids in a car that is not well-maintained can put a whole trip at risk, not to mention lead to serious damage and higher repair costs.
As car owners, it’s important that we keep regular maintenance records, and make sure all vital systems are kept in working order. Keeping current with local promotions is also a good way to get multiple maintenance services performed all at once, and for cheaper. Many shops also post coupons and discounts on their websites. Some dealerships now offer coupons and discounts on their website, so staying up to date with the available promotions can help you save money when it comes time for scheduled maintenance.
When taking your car to the shop for regular maintenance, always take it to a place you can trust. The dealership, while usually higher in price, has specially-trained technicians for your car. Many times, you can get as good of deals with the dealer as you can with independent shops – you just have to look for them. Go to your dealer’s website and try to sign up for coupons/specials. Most of the time, you’ll get something in your inbox you can use. My Toyota dealer usually sends me discounts and specials when they know I’m getting near my next service date.
There IS help out there for new and veteran parents!
All parents have the responsibility to keep everyone safe when traveling. If you are new to the game or have been doing this for years, there is help out there for you. Here are a few links to get you started: