The whole family is ready for a vacation this summer, especially after so many travel plans were canceled last year. If you plan on driving to the beach or road tripping to visit with family, car safety should be a top priority. Whether you’re traveling with your newborn or your grandparents, every age group has different guidelines for car safety.
Before Two Years of Age
Children under two must be in a rear-facing car seat during transit. Your child can stay in a rear-facing position until they reach the maximum height or weight limits of the seat.
The car seat must be installed tightly with lower anchors or a vehicle safety belt. If it moves more than one inch at the belt path, it is not tight enough. The car seat should also recline so your infant’s head does not fall forward. Also, be wary of the extra products that are not included with your car seat. These could be toys, a mirror, or harness pads — make sure they are approved by the car seat manufacturer before use.
The correct positioning of the harness is just as important as the correct installation of your car seat. The straps need to be snug; the chest clip must be at the same level as the baby’s armpits and should point to where the straps connect with the back of the seat must be no more than shoulder level.
Two to Four Years Old
Once your child meets the height or weight requirement, they can graduate to a forward-facing position with a five-point harness.
Again, this car seat should be tightly installed with the vehicle’s safety belt of the lower anchors and tether after reviewing the system’s weight guidelines. This time, it should be placed in an upright position, rather than reclined. The harness requirements remain the same for children that are under two.
Over Four Years and Over 40 Pounds
After the forward-facing car seat, your child may be ready for a booster seat. Children younger than nine must be in a booster seat while in transit. Once the height or weight limit set by the booster seat’s manufacturer has been met, or when your child is more than 80 pounds and taller than 4 feet, nine inches., they can travel in a vehicle with just the safety belt.
Until your child turns 13 years old, they should not ride in the front seat of a vehicle.
When your teenager becomes old enough to drive, it is crucial to remind them of the risks of distracted driving. Having too many friends in the vehicle or paying more attention to your cell phone than the road are just a couple of examples.
The most important thing to do is to talk to them about the responsibilities they are taking on as a driver. Make sure they know the restrictions set in place by law to deter them from using their cell phones or allowing too many passengers. Set your own restrictions and consequences with them as needed.
No matter what age group you fall under, the most important thing to remember is to wear your seatbelt no matter how short your car ride is. In 2018, more than half of the adults aged 20 to 44 years old who died in car crashes were not wearing their seatbelts at the time of the crash according to the CDC. Wearing your seatbelt is the most effective way to reduce car crash injuries or death.
Another easy way to prevent car crash injuries or death is to not drive under the influence. Even a small amount of alcohol can cause changes in behavior and bodily function. Alcohol can affect your ability to concentrate, react quickly, and make good judgement calls. These are all skills that are necessary to drive safely. When in doubt, do not drive.
As people get older, the risk for being involved in a car accident increases. Adults 65 years of age or older are more likely to have a medical problem or take medication that affects their ability to drive. Discuss these concerns with your doctor to know if you are medically sound to drive. The same rule applies, when in doubt, do not drive.
During the consultation, you should also have your vision and hearing evaluated. This will help to make sure you are as alert to other drivers and pedestrians as possible. You may also want to limit your driving to daytime hours when it is light and when the weather is good.
However old you are, it is best to use common sense when it comes to driving. Stay safe and enjoy your road trip.
Annalisa Negrea, RN, is the injury prevention coordinator with Emergency Medicine at UPMC Williamsport, 700 High Street. For more information, visit UPMC.com/Emergency.