Seven steps for road travel safety this winter
By Sarah Tilton, child passenger safety advocate
Whether it’s a drive around the corner or across the country, it’s imperative to take the proper precautions for a safe trip year-round. Still, as winter approaches, holiday vacations and school breaks make November through January a busy travel season. As a certified child passenger safety (CPS) technician, I’ve helped families make sure their children are well-protected and content on the road during all seasons. Here’s how to make sure your trip is as safe — and fun — as possible.
- Make safe seating a priority. The importance of a good car seat cannot be overestimated. You wouldn’t buy a vehicle without taking it for a test drive, so if it’s possible, place the car seat in your car to ensure a proper fit before purchasing it. Some vehicle manufacturers offer a list of suggested car seat models and many car seat companies have detailed online safety resources (such as the Britax Child Safety Center at www.britaxusa.com)
- Protect your child from all sides. We know that head injury is the leading cause of death for children up to 12 years old involved vehicle crashes. It also comprises 65 percent of injuries in both frontal and side impact crashes. Fortunately, there are car seat manufacturers that develop car seats with advanced safety technologies to reduce the risk of head injury in the event of a vehicle crash. Parents should also look for a car seat with superior side impact protection. This is marked by features such as deep side and head wings that are made from energy-absorbent material and an adjustable head support to minimize lateral head movement in a crash. This is important because approximately one in four of all motor vehicle crashes that involve children occur from the side, and these crashes result in a significantly higher injury rate than front or rear crashes, according to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
- Go to a professional. About 80 percent of all car seats are installed and used incorrectly. Even if you’ve carefully followed the instructions in the manual and watched online installation demos to install your child’s car seat, it’s crucial to visit a certified CPS technician for a triple-check. Visit NHTSA’s Web site (www.nhtsa.dot.gov) for a list of child safety seat inspection stations and trained technicians by ZIP code.
- Maintain normal schedules on the road. Try to keep your routine of meals and naps while you’re on the road. If your baby doesn’t like to sleep in a moving vehicle, leave right after he wakes up from naptime or early in the morning. On the other hand, if your child does do well sleeping in the car, plan for his naptime while you’re moving. It will give you a few extra hours of peace and quiet.
- Pack smart. You know how short your child’s attention span can be, so it’s better to come prepared with more activities than not enough. Audio books are a time-tested favorite for keeping kids occupied on long car trips. Ask your librarian or bookstore salesman to recommend the most popular titles for young children. Along with everyday items like diapers and paper towels, be sure to pack winter safety items and keep them in the trunk to ensure your family’s comfort. Winter items can include warm blankets, thermoses, flashlights and tire chains if you’re traveling in snow.
- Visit the backseat. If you’re traveling with just one child, remember how lonely it can get in the backseat. Let your spouse concentrate on driving while you enjoy some one-on-one time with your child. Play a game, read a story, or draw together.
- Plan for the weather. No matter what area of the country you’re driving in, winter weather can be unpredictable. Check the weather forecast before you leave and keep abreast of conditions on the road by calling the U.S. Department of Transportation Road Conditions Hotline or listening to the radio every few hours. Also consider giving yourself scheduling flexibility. For example, you might plan an extra day at the front and end of your trip in case you need to leave early to avoid bad weather or stop en route if you hit a storm.
The key to a successful road trip is in the preparation. If you’ve installed the proper car seat, planned the right activities and timed your journey, the biggest worry on your mind will be how to answer that seventh cry of “Are we there yet?”.
About Sarah Tilton
Sarah Tilton is a child passenger safety advocate with Britax Child Safety Inc., a leading car seat and stroller manufacturer. An active Certified Passenger Safety (CPS) technician and instructor, Tilton frequently participates in child passenger safety activities at a local, state and national level. She is currently active with the Safe Kids Charlotte Mecklenburg coalition and is a member of the North Carolina Child Passenger Safety Training Committee.