The good news for parents: Cars are getting safer and more child-friendly all the time. From backup cameras to glow-in-the-dark trunk release buttons, cars today come with standard features that make them more child-safe than ever.
Still, parents need to remain informed, says Janette Fennell, president and founder of the advocacy organization Kids and Cars. There are at least six crucial on-the-road checks that are a must:
Activate Child Window Locks
Cars built since 2010 are now required to have switches that pull up to raise the window, but it’s still safest to enable child locks on rear windows, if your car has them. If your child accidentally presses the power switch on the car window, it could trigger the window to close with as much as 80 pounds of force—enough for severe injury or suffocation.
If you’re in the market for a new car, consider looking for anti-pinch or auto-reverse features on all the doors (it’s already common in driver-side windows). You can test it using a roll of paper towels. “Pull up on the switch and if the window goes up and comes back down it has auto reverse,” says Fennell, whose organization successfully advocated for the change in power window switches.
Always Buckle Up…
While advances in car seats have dramatically cut the number of fatalities since the 1970s, more than 600 children still die every year in crashes, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
In a full 32 percent of crash deaths, kids weren’t buckled up or in car seats, the report notes. And don’t forget yourself while you’re at it: When you buckle up, you’re more likely to buckle in the little ones in back, reports the National Center for Highway Safety.
Keep Unused Seatbelts Buckled, Too
Ever noticed how your seatbelt locks into place after it’s been pulled all the way out? The feature is designed to hold car seats in place and keep all passengers safe, but if a child pulls it out all the way and wraps it around himself, it can become a strangulation risk. To remove the temptation of playing with unused seatbelts, buckle them up.
Get a Car Seat Check Up
Car seats can reduce the risk of death in a crash by as much as 71 percent, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. But only a quarter of seats are installed correctly, maximizing their effectiveness, research shows. Among the most common mistakes are loose straps (you shouldn’t be able to wiggle the seat more than an inch, or pinch an inch on your child’s chest strap) as well as forgotten tethers on front-facing seats. Every car seat and car combo is different, but you can find a trained expert to check your car seat for free at safercar.gov.
Keep Your Phone In The Backseat
Think you’d never forget your child? Twenty-four children died of heatstroke in cars in 2015, and in more than half of those cases the cause was parental forgetfulness, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Not only does putting your phone out of reach help you avoid the temptation of distracted driving, but it also gives you one more reason to check the backseat before you leave the car. Even on a mild day, the temperature inside a car can climb roughly 20 degrees in just 10 minutes—and cracking the window barely helps.
Choose Safe Accessories
Putting a barrier between your child’s car seat and your car’s leather interior may seem like a smart way to protect it against scuffs and crumbs. But the wrong material can interfere with the safety seat, making it prone to slipping in an accident, according to Car Seats for the Littles, an online resource run by a volunteer staff of nationally certified child passenger safety technicians.
Check the car seat’s manual to see what types of seat protectors—if any—are compatible. As a rule, liners shouldn’t change the fit of the car seat, so if you install the seat, then remove the liner, the seat should still be snug.
A safer way to keep things clean: Put a cover between your toddler’s feet and the front seat, or the back of the back seat if she’s still rear-facing, to keep dirt off your upholstery. Many manufacturers sell car seat covers with added pockets to corral sippy cups and books, but an old towel or repurposed large T-shirt can do the trick as well.
In the market for a new ride? Check out the safest new cars for 2017.
Looking for more ways to protect your family? Make sure you have the coverage you need with GEICO’s coverage calculator.
By Natalie Gingerich