From the right kind of car to the best kind of insurance coverage, there are many ingredients in the modern family’s car safety recipe. After reading “5 Ways to Make Your Car Safer for Your Kids” you will be ready to make sure your car, insurance, safety aids, and kids are being taken care of in the best possible way.
GET INFORMED, STAY UPDATED
ACTION: Read about car safety, research safety products
RATIONALE: The more you know, the safer the ride
Although auto accidents are a leading cause of injury-related deaths, there were fewer fatalities in 2009 than any year since 1951. In 2009, 1,538 children age 15 and under died in motor vehicle accidents. (Data for 2016 is still be compiled.)
The most careful driver in the world is still at the mercy of the dangerous, drunk, and the distracted. With a little work, you can reduce your children’s chances of being killed or injured in a car. Even more important than external factors like road conditions and vehicle speed is the way your children ride in the car – where they’re seated, what kind of car seat is used, even how they’re dressed.
The fact is, a child riding unrestrained is the number one cause of injury and death in auto accidents. Researchers estimate that three out of ten children age four and under ride that way regularly.
USE THE RIGHT CAR SEAT
ACTION: Choose the proper seats for your child
RATIONALE: The single best thing you can do
Used correctly, car seats reduce the risk of death for toddlers by 54%, and infants by a whopping 71%. Laws vary among the states – and there are many federal regulations, too – concerning where and how children should ride in cars.
When a child has reached 4.5 feet in height (age between the ages of six and eight), they can sit in the back seat and use seat belts. They are not supposed to ride in the front seat until age 12. Just about every car made since 2002 has the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system for anchoring car seats. There are different sizes and kinds of seats to accommodate children of all ages.
Rear-facing infant seats should be used until your baby is at least a year old and weighs 20-35 lbs., although some manufacturers have different recommendations for their products, and recent studies suggest a longer time frame.
Some car seats, called “capsules,” add hard sides and removable hard tops for added security.
A convertible seat can work as a rear-facing baby model and then be reversed when the child is old enough to face forward. The last seat a child will use before making the transition to seat and shoulder belts is a booster seat. When your child reaches 4.5 to 5 feet tall, he/she should be ready for the switch. To confirm this you should make sure that he/she:
- Can sit all the way back in the seat with knees bent normally at the front edge,
- Has the shoulder belt across the chest and the seat belt across the lap (not stomach),
- Is able to ride like that comfortably for an entire trip.
KEEP IT RUNNING & CLEAN
ACTION: Do scheduled maintenance, and check car readiness regularly
RATIONALE: A clean, well-maintained car is safer
In addition to following all the regular maintenance schedules – engine tune-ups, oil changes, tire rotations, brake pads, etc. – never let problems go unfixed, not even “little” ones. Make a habit of checking fluid levels and the air pressure in the tires (along with the amount of tread), and investigate any new noises wherever they come from.
You should also keep the windows and outside mirrors clean, as well as the inside rear view mirror. A major contributor to accidents, especially at night and in bad weather, is reduced visibility caused by dirty windows, weak or burned out headlights, and bad wiper blades. It’s also better for everyone, especially vulnerable children, to have a clean car interior.
In family cars, regular use of a disinfectant is recommended – also wipe the inside windows where children put their mouths, noses, and fingers. Other threats inside the car include all those loose items on the dash, in the cubbyholes, on the center console, and on the seats.
Tools, food containers, cans, cell phones, and toys can become missiles in crashes and rollovers. Throw out the junk and stash the keepers in the glove box or seatback pockets.
PICK THE RIGHT RIDE
ACTION: Find out what the safest vehicles are and get one
RATIONALE: Safe driving is more easily done in a safe vehicle
You don’t need a Sherman Tank or a Hummer to keep your kids safe on the road, as there are five-star-rated vehicles in every size and style. Parents seeking a full-sized van or SUV should consider the Honda Odyssey.
It’s on the “safest car” list published by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), along with the Chevy Traverse SUV. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) ranks the Kia Sedona very high, too, and all of these models have the LATCH system, safety windows, and multiple air bags.
Among small to midsize SUVs, the safest are the Acura MDX, which made the Forbes list of the 15 safest vehicles, and the moderately priced Toyota RAV4. The former has a price premium over its segment competitors, but the extra money shows up in safety technology as well as safe behavior – like a low probability of rollover.
The Toyota was one of Kelley Blue Book’s top ten family rides, and has more than a few high-end safety features (auto window reversal, child-safe locks, high scores in front- and back-seat side impact tests).
There is safety to be found in “Detroit iron” and other large highway barges but, surprisingly, the top-rated safe cars are regular sedans or smaller.
Honda has five of the 15 models on Forbes’ list, while its Accord (large sedan) and Civic four-door (small) also made the IIHS list and others. Rear crash scores were tops, and the optional stability control adds another dimension of safety.
Another small sedan, the Subaru Impreza, has standard rollover sensing, so the side air bags are activated as the rollover begins. The Impreza also has electronic stability control, and scored particularly high in front crash tests. Child-safe switches and the LATCH system round out a top safety pick (that happens to have four-wheel drive) are included.
HAVE COMPREHENSIVE INSURANCE COVERAGE
ACTION: Talk with your insurance agent and get complete coverage
RATIONALE: You will never forgive yourself for being underinsured
If you find yourself saying you can’t afford comprehensive car insurance, you need to look at your budget again and find something to cut. If you are driving around with a child (or children) in the car, your first responsibility as a parent is to protect them to the best of your ability.
If you’re a parent, you should never drive with just liability insurance (which only covers the other driver and auto in an accident). You need complete coverage, including medical. If you are not fully covered right now, call your agent or insurance company right away.
You may face another insurance situation if you have teens who are ready to drive. While they are living in your home, you can add them on policies as secondary drivers of the family cars.
If your teen has her own car, you should always be honest with insurers and pay for a separate policy. Insurance scams of any kind simply drive up premiums for everyone, and may result in denial of a claim.
Trying to save money by misrepresenting the ownership of an auto – or adding a teen as a secondary driver of a family car, when she is actually a primary driver of her own – is not worth the risk. It’s also fraud, and could cost you dearly, financially and otherwise. You will be a better role model by being honest.
There is nothing earthshakingly new about any of these safety suggestions. Making your car safe for kids simply requires common sense, discipline, and thoroughness. You already know how to do most of what is needed, and nothing else is very hard to learn, so there really are no excuses.
If your car is not safe for your kids, it simply means you are not doing your job. Remember: love isn’t the squishy feeling you get when you’re 16 or the emotion that’s behind so much of the world’s poetry. It’s action – like doing whatever you have to do to protect your kids. If your car doesn’t measure up, turn on the love and get busy.