Safety First

Actionable quick tips for making sure your child stays safe in the car

Parents can be distracted by many different factors when they're driving with a child in a car seat.

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You're driving along, when suddenly little Sally hurdles her Cheerios at you from the back seat and begins screaming at an ear-splitting decibel level comparable to the last concert you went to (and you haven't been to one since she was born). You quickly look back at your precious daughter, averting your eyes from the road. Despite her wails, Sally seems alright, so you focus on the road again, just in time to swerve to avoid hitting a piece of tire.

Your child is your most precious cargo, yet also a distraction. This is a juxtaposition parents face when driving with their children. Even if you're not distracted by your child, you might get distracted by any number of other things. It's no wonder 69% of parents and 73% of new parents reported that they "actively worry about their children's safety in a car," according to a new study from Volvo Car USA and The Harris Poll.

The Harris Poll conducted this study on Volvo's behalf from May 21-29, 2019. For the study, The Harris Poll surveyed 2,000 licensed drivers ages 18 and older. Of these drivers, 1,236 (61.8%) were new parents – parents who had children age 2 or under at the time of the study. The remaining 764 (38.2%) drivers were adults of all ages. The survey results were published in "Volvo Reports: Child Safety in the Back Seat."

Historically, safety has always been a prime focus for Volvo. In 1959, the automaker invented the three-point safety belt, in 1964 they tested the first child restraint prototype, and in 1978 Volvo introduced the child safety booster cushion. Volvo and Britax, a car seat company which started in Europe and expanded to the United States in 1996, have partnered to come up with a variety of practical tips for parents based on the survey results.

Car Seat Research and Installation

Do your homework.

Sixty-six percent of new parents found researching car seats and car safety tools to be overwhelming. The amount of time and effort required to narrow down the many car seat options may be daunting, but it is crucial that you make the right decision. You must find a car seat that works with your vehicle, child, and budget.

Contact your car seat and/or vehicle manufacturer if you have questions.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has found that 59% of child seats are not installed correctly. Read your car seat instructions and your vehicle's owner manual to determine whether the car seat should be secured using the seat belt or the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren) system. Using both simultaneously is ineffective and discouraged, as it can lessen the security that each separately provides. Be sure to check your vehicle's manual and contact your vehicle manufacturer if you have further questions.

Use third-party resources if needed.

Safe Kids Worldwide offers a variety of resources for parents, including car seat checkups to ensure you've installed your car seat correctly. Parents can also meet with a Certified Passenger Safety (CPS) Technician, who will teach them to install their car seat. Often, local police departments and fire stations have a CPS technician on staff who can help for free.

Car Seat Use

Properly secure your child's harness.

NHTSA found that nearly 60% of child harnesses were too loose. Don't allow your child to wear a thick jacket or be covered by a blanket while in the car seat, as either of these means the harness can't be as snug as it should be. Additionally, make sure you position the harness correctly – it should be on your child's pelvis and around their chest and shoulders.

Your child's weight and height are more important than their age.

Car seat and booster seat (or "child passenger restraint system") laws vary by state. Your child's weight and height are more important than their age when deciding when to allow them to face forward in their car seat, move to a booster seat, or begin sitting in the front passenger seat.

Keep your child facing backwards in their car seat "until they reach the maximum height and weight restrictions for the seat, as rear-facing seats spread crash forces more evenly across the back of the child seat, and thereby better protect their vulnerable neck." Likewise, even once your child reaches the age at which they are technically allowed to begin sitting in a booster seat rather than a car seat, or in the front seat rather than the back seat, do not make either change if your child does not yet weigh enough and/or is not yet tall enough.

Other Tips for Parents

Always wear your seat belt.

According to the study, 71% of parents and 87% of new parents have unbuckled their seatbelts while driving with their children. This is unsafe. If you want to comfort your child or pick up their toy, pull off the road to a safe area and park before you unbuckle.

Reduce and contain loose items.

Don't keep too many items, especially large ones, in your car. Ensure that the items you do have in your car are contained as much as possible. If your child throws something at you while you're driving, this can distract you – 20% of parents report that their child has thrown a toy at them from the back seat. During a crash, objects flying through the air can cause serious harm to you or your children.

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Red light camera usage in the U.S. has declined over the last few years.

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New research shows that communities across the U.S. are not using as many red light cameras as they used to while implementation of speed detection cameras is increasing. Both have been shows to reduce the occurrence of automobile crashes.

A new checklist devised by AAA, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Safety Council (NSC) was designed to serve as a roadmap for communities that are establishing or expanding automated enforcement programs and to dispel myths surrounding the use of the cameras.

"Research by IIHS and others has shown consistently that automated enforcement curbs dangerous driving behaviors and reduces crashes," says IIHS President David Harkey. "We hope this document developed with our highway safety partners will help communities take full advantage of this tool."

From 2011 to 2014 more than 500 communities across the U.S. operated red light cameras. Today that number stands at 340. The systems are costly. In 2003, the U.S. Department of Transportation estimated the cost as $67,000 to $80,000 per intersection. That number doesn't include the manpower hours, ticket mailing fees, court costs, or maintenance time and money associated with the ticketing. Today, the cost of the system is estimated to be in the $100,000 range per intersection.

Running red lights kills hundreds and injure tens of thousands of people every year, according to IIHS. In 2019, 846 people were killed and an estimated 143,000 were injured in red light running crashes. Most of those killed were pedestrians, bicyclists and people in other vehicles and not the red light runners or passengers riding with them.

"Red light running and speeding are known killers on our roads," says Advocates President Cathy Chase. "Well-designed and implemented automated enforcement programs can deter these hazardous driving behaviors and reduce crash deaths and injuries. They can also provide an equitable, neutral option for upgrading safety. We urge states and localities to use this checklist together with road safety infrastructure improvements to help protect motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians and other vulnerable road users."

Nearly one-quarter of all traffic fatalities in 2020 (9,478 deaths) occurred due to high speed. Crashes that occur at higher speeds tend to have more severe results.

"We know from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety's research that more than two people are killed every day on U.S. roads by impatient and reckless drivers blowing through red lights," says Jill Ingrassia, AAA's executive director of advocacy and communications. "Automated enforcement can play a role in a comprehensive strategy to address dangerous driving behaviors and improve traffic safety for all road users. This new set of best practice guidelines is an excellent starting point in helping jurisdictions ensure these programs are well-designed, data-driven, transparent and equitably implemented."

Camera laws vary from state to state. Currently, Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia prohibit both red light and speed cameras. Montana and South Dakota disallow red-light cameras, and New Jersey and Wisconsin have outlawed speed cameras.

The checklist features first-, second-, and long-term steps including many common sense action items including:

  • Identifying problem intersections and roadways
  • Make engineering and/or signage changes
  • Establish an advisory committee
  • Identify key stakeholders
  • Utilize safety data to determine camera locations
  • Require regular evaluations
The full checklist is available now at IIHS.org.

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Driving in the country has its own unique challenges.

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Tis the season for getting stuck driving behind a tractor. Country roads have their plusses and minuses - the scenery, the lack of traffic, the ability to push the speed limit. But, they also come with their own set of safety hazards. New guidance from GEM Motoring Assist gives drivers safety tips for navigating back roads. Plus, we threw in a few top tips of our own.

"Driving in the countryside is usually a great pleasure, with good views, quiet roads and a variety of interesting terrain," said GEM chief executive Neil Worth. "But country roads are used by many different people and vehicles, so it's vital to look for the clues – some obvious, others less so – as to what might be round the next bend."

Rule #1: Expect the unexpected

According to Neil Worth, country road hazards may be unique. "What's round the corner on a rural road with restricted visibility? It could be another car or a motorcycle coming towards you too fast, a group of cyclists on a ride out, sheep or cattle crossing the road, a horse and rider, a wild animal, a slow-moving farm tractor…

"Until you have perfect sight of what's ahead, you need to be ready to anticipate what could be there. By adjusting your speed and position accordingly, you're doing your bit to keep yourself and the other road users safe."

Rule #2: Mud can be a sign of what's to come

If you see mud on the road, expect to see slow-moving farm vehicles. Sometimes you'll get lucky and see them in the lane. Other times, tractors enter the roadway from a pasture or field unexpectedly and can be obstructed from view by crops or animals.

Rule #3: Watch for fresh cut grass.

If you smell or see fresh-cut grass, there's a good chance that there's a mower nearby. Whether it's the local department of transportation doing their work in the median on a highway or the side of a thoroughfare, or a resident cutting their lawn, it's important to remember that they may veer into the roadway to get their job done.

Rule #4: Don't stop but smell the manure.

Usual the smell of manure has you reaching for the air circulation options on your dashboard, and rightly so. Smelling manure is a sign that livestock is nearby. Plops in the roadway may mean that there is a horse ahead, either being ridden, pulling a buggy, or on the loose.

Rule #5: Watch out for garbage cans.

If you live in the suburbs, you know how a strong wind can make garbage bins go flying around your neighborhood. Make the wind stronger, give it a clear path, and you're now seeing one of the finer points of country living. When you see garbage bins on the curb on a windy day, pay heed, they may come your way.

Also, having bins on the curb means that it either is trash day or that trash day is tomorrow. Either way, pay attention for stopped and slow-moving garbage trucks along your route.

Rule #6: Make room if you can.

Country roads can be especially narrow, with just barely enough for two vehicles to pass each other. When a vehicle approaches in the opposite direction, it is appropriate to slow on my narrow paths to determine if you'll both fit. Don't be afraid to be the one to pull off to the side to let another vehicle pass, as long as you can do so safely.

If you encounter a horse rider on the road, drive very slowly and give the horse a wide berth. It's important to not frighten the hose, only passing when you're able to safely do so.

Rule #7: Beware the bumpy road.

Not all country roads are paved. Bumpy dirt roads don't just kick the dust up, they can easily hide potholes, drops, and sharp rocks.

Rule #8: Keep your head up for cyclists.

Country roads don't traditionally offer sidewalks or bike paths. Cyclists don't always travel in packs and when moving at speed, can be hard to see against sunshine. Like with horses, give cyclists a wide birth and slow your speed when passing. The wind movement from a passing vehicle can be enough to knock a cyclist off their bike.

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