By Sarah Tilton, child passenger safety advocate
As summer approaches, families begin making plans for one of the most American of traditions — the road trip. But decisions about safe travel are even more important than which beach or amusement park to visit. As a certified child passenger safety (CPS) technician, I’ve helped families make sure their children are well-protected on the road. 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 that reduce the risk of head injury and protect children from all sides in the event of a vehicle crash. I advise parents to look for features that create stability in a collision, as well as features that work to counteract forward rotation of the child seat. Parents should also purchase 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.
- 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.
- Take regular breaks. Remember that a vacation should be just as much about the journey as it is the destination. Your baby will get just as tired riding for long stretches as you do driving them, so stop every three hours or so for break. If you have hyperactive, older children, keep jump ropes and beach balls in the trunk. When it comes time for a rest stop, find a picnic area to relax, play and enjoy the scenery.
- 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. Also, pack one Ziploc bag of snacks for each child before leaving, which will eliminate some of the bickering in the backseat. Keep extra diapers in the trunk, as well as hand sanitizer, paper towels and small bags for garbage.
- 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.
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.