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Car Safety Continued

Angela Oswalt, MSW

Between the ages of 4 to 8 years, from 40 to 80 pounds or more, children should continue to use a belt-positioning booster seat to make sure that the seat belts will protect them properly and not injure them in the event of an accident. Children should continue to use booster seats until they can sit in the regular seat and the safety belt can be latched and fit appropriately as it would for an adult. Caregivers should not allow a child to sit in a regular car seat with the shoulder harness placed under the child's arm, for example. If a child can not sit appropriately in the car seat as would an adult, he or she should continue to use a booster seat.

Children should never ride in the front seat of a car until they are at least 12 years old due to risk of injury from air bags. Most cars on the road today have front-impact air bags that expand explosively upon impact. While such air bags are a wonderful lifesaving device for adults, they end up being more harmful than helpful to infant bodies. Infants in a rear-facing car seat should never be placed in the front seat of a car as the impact of an air bag would perhaps be fatal. Infants and younger children will have the happiest and safest ride in the rear center seat of the car. This position affords them the most protection from impacts to any side of the vehicle and keeps little hands away from window, locks, and other buttons.

Once babies and small children are safely restrained in the car, there are a few more things caregivers should check before starting up the engine. Often when a parent is transporting one or more children, there is a good chance that one or more children are still around the house or in the neighborhood. Caregivers should always walk around their vehicle to make sure that no children or cherished pets are playing behind or close to the vehicle. Taking this extra step is an inexpensive insurance policy to help insure the safety of all children in the neighborhood. Having determined that the area around the car is clear, another quick scan is appropriate to similarly check on the safety of the car's interior. Heavy objects should be stored in the car's truck and not in the back seat. Also clear the seats and dashboard of smaller objects that could become dangerous flying objects in an accident. Store such objects in the glove compartment, mesh seat holders, in a container in the trunk, or in some other enclosed and fixed storage location.

On a more long-term preventative note, check your automatic garage door opener (if there is one in your home). Since the early 1980s, all new automatic garage door openers must be installed with a feature that will automatically raise the door mid-closing if it comes in contact with an object. However, since 1993, all new openers must be installed with an even better feature that uses an invisible light ray to detect objects moving under a closing door and automatically stop the door's downward progress.

Having attended to these precautions, caregivers can now roll out of the driveway. However, the safety measures don't end there. Drivers transporting young children should be especially cautious about following all traffic laws and being aware of their surroundings. Caregivers should pay special attention to keeping their focus and attention on the road. This task can be difficult when a young child or multiple young children are present and making noise in the back seat.

Caregivers' best means of insuring a calm and quiet car trip is to make sure that all children have something to do. Children can be supplied with toys or books that are only for use within the car (so as to better maintain their novelty). Older children may prefer to use a hand-held gaming device to keep themselves occupied. Also, caregivers can play age-appropriate music or encourage an older child to lead a safe car game, like "I Spy." For longer car trips, try driving later at night, in the early morning, or during nap times, when younger children will quickly fall and stay asleep for the ride.

If babies become upset and there isn't another passenger to soothe them, or if older children who are fighting or screaming require intervention, the caregiver should pull over the car to handle the situation and not move again until the problem is resolved. Adults should use common sense about where and when they pull over, of course, and great caution must be taken when pulling over on a fast moving highway.

It's important to note that caregivers should never leave a baby unattended in a car even if they are only leaving the car for a moment to run into a building or store. Never. Car temperatures can rise and fall quickly, creating extreme conditions that may harm the child. As well, caregivers cannot monitor or protect their child from other people in the vicinity who may wish the child harm if they are not themselves present in the car. Never leave a child unattended in the car.

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