Whether you are just going to the store downtown or traveling two hours to visit an amusement park, it is your job to make your child safe and comfortable during the car drive. The first thing that might come to your mind is using a car seat.
Using a car seat is the best way to protect your child during a potential accident. Because the sad truth is, even if you are an extra careful and observant driver, you still won’t be able to predict the behaviors of the other drivers on the road. The solution for this is to be always one step ahead; avoid distractions, maintain a distance to the vehicle in front of you, and never neglect seat belts. And for a child passenger, he/she must use the appropriate car seat for him.
How do you choose a car seat? For example, selecting a car seat for 6-year-old is not only dependent on the child’s age, height, and weight. His/her maturity also dictates what restraint will work best for him/her. Therefore, a 6-year old can use a harness seat or a booster seat. These factors for choosing the appropriate car seat are also applicable to any age group.
Still confused? Continue reading!
Car manufacturers designed seat belts with adults in mind. The seat belt restrains the adult passenger so that he/she will not propel out of his/her seat during an impact. The belt is also designed to distribute the force of the impact on the body’s strong bones.
However, since children are smaller than adults, wearing the seat belt as it is can do more harm to them than good. For example, if the shoulder portion of the seat belt is not situated on the middle of the child’s shoulder and chest, the restraint on his/her upper body is gone. This can lead to head and neck injuries as his/her body propels forward during a crash. If the lap portion of the seat belt is not on his/her upper thighs and is on his/her stomach instead, it can cause damage to the child’s internal organs because the belt can potentially lacerate the stomach during an impact.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, using car seats can reduce injuries during a crash by 71-82 percent. But for a car seat to be effective, the child has to be using the appropriate car seat stage for his age and demeanor.
Car Seat Stages
There are different kinds of car seats that your child should use in chronological order. It is crucial that we discuss these car seat stages to ensure the efficiency of the car seat, thus making your child comfortable and safe throughout the drive.
The best way to know that your child can transition to the next car seat stage is when he/she has outgrown his current car seat. The reason for this is because sometimes even if the child has reached the minimum age, height, or weight requirements of the car seat stage, his/her demeanor can still be immature for lesser restraints. This is an essential factor because if he/she moves out of the proper sitting posture such as slouching, he/she is at higher risk for injuries during an accident.
Rear-Facing Car Seat
From birth to 4 years old, your child can use a rear-facing car seat. This seat has a harness system that holds your child in place.
Forward-Facing Car Seat
Once your child is too big for his/her rear-facing seat, he/she can start using a forward-facing car seat until he is 5 years old (or longer). This seat also uses a harness system like a 5-point harness that restrains the child on both shoulders, hips, and crotch.
The forward-facing car seat is your best choice, especially if your child still likes to lean sideways, slouch forward, or reach things around. This seat is also the safest choice when your child sleeps a lot during car rides because of the number of restraint.
It is important never to rush your child to use a booster seat. The booster seat has lesser control on your child’s movements because unlike the first two, it has no harness system and instead uses the vehicle’s seat belt to restrain the child.
Booster seats are designed to boost a child’s height so that he/she can still have the proper seat belt fit for an adult.
Installing a Car Seat
After appropriately choosing the car seat for your child, the next question is, “Where should I place the car seat?” It will be best for children under 13 years of age to sit at the back seat. The reason for this is because the airbags at the front passenger seat can inflate during a crash and cause the child to propel towards harder areas inside the car. The inflating airbag can also cause injuries to a child.
It is also essential to read the model’s manual to check for seat belt paths and other locking mechanisms such as the latch system to keep the car seat in place. Check the model’s recommended reclining position, and before using the seat, check its tightness.
Proper Harness Fit
The harness (5-point) should have no twists and go over both the shoulder and hips comfortably as it buckles down the crotch.
Proper Seat Belt Fit
To keep your child comfortable and not compel him/her to move the seat belt on dangerous positions, you should check the following:
- The shoulder portion of the seat belt sits comfortably across the child’s chest and is not rubbing against his/her neck.
- The lap portion of the seat belt lays snugly on his/her upper thighs and not on his/her stomach.
Now that you are informed about the basics of car seat usage, you might think that the information you have to know about child safety and comfort during car travel ends here. But actually, there are other things that you have to do when it comes to driving with a child.
Besides familiarizing yourself with the different traffic and car seat laws, make sure to remember the following:
Accompany Your Child When He/She Gets In and Out of the Car
More than just making sure that you wear your seat belt and serve as a good role model to your child, you should also habitually remind them to wait for you before they get in and out of the car. This way, you can see if there are other vehicles on the sideway or parking lot and prevent your child from suddenly opening the car door. You can also lock his/her side until you’re ready so he/she don’t accidentally get out of the car.
To keep your child entertained, especially during a long drive, bring some of his/her favorite toys to keep him busy. However, it is safer if you bring toys that wouldn’t be dangerous if it suddenly gets thrown out of your child’s hand.
It will also be better to check any loose objects inside the car and secure them into place to avoid projectile in case of an accident.
Teach Your Kid to Not Play with the Switches and Controls Inside the Car
This includes his/her seats, seat belts, buckles, window switches, armrests, and cup holders. You should also never leave your key in the ignition. Children are naturally curious, and they get bored quickly, so make sure that that the things that we have mentioned are prohibited or out of his/her reach.
Have Scheduled Road Stops
When a child feels uncomfortable, he/she will definitely make you aware of it. You can have scheduled road stops for comfort room breaks, and snack breaks to keep him/her comfortable and stress-free during the drive.
You can also buy (or bring your own) snacks and other things like diapers, motion sickness medications, and extra clothing in case of sudden outbursts during the drive.
Never Leave Your Child Alone in the Car
Lastly, never leave your child alone in the car. Even if you think it will only be for a short period of time, it doesn’t matter. The temperature inside the vehicle can change drastically and can be fatal for a child.
You should also look back before locking the car. Even if you always tell yourself that you will never make the same mistake as other parents on the news, some days you might feel more tired and prone to making that dangerous mistake mindlessly. You can put a toy in the front seat to serve as a reminder that you are driving with a child in the back seat.