Every summer millions of people pack up their suitcase and head out to enjoy a little rest and relaxation. Of those millions of people, many will be families on their way to visit relatives or make memories at new destinations. Before your family goes on vacation, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital wants to remind you to stay safe on every ride.
“Road injuries are the leading cause of unintentional child death in the United States,” explains Petra Vybiralova, MSW, CPSTI, Safe Kids Supervisor at Johns Hopkins All Children’s. “When car seats, booster seats and seatbelts are used correctly, the risk of injury is greatly reduced.”
No matter where you are going or how you are getting there, the most important thing is to make sure everyone gets there and back home again safely.
Anytime your family is traveling by car, make sure everyone is properly restrained – this means seatbelts for older kids and adults, car seats for babies and young children, and booster seats for kids still in-between.
Before a long trip, make sure each child’s car seat still fits and is properly installed in your vehicle. The stickers on the seat will tell you if your child still fits based on their height and weight. If the stickers are missing, you can find the information in the car seat manual or on the manufacturer’s website. Each car seat manufacturer also has qualified customer support, which can guide anyone through the process.
Some families like to drive late at night so children will sleep for most of the trip. While it might be tempting to add comfort items, such as pillows, to the car seat, they can actually pose a danger to the child. Car seats have been safety tested as built and modifying them in any way can negatively affect their ability to protect children.
If your child is at least 4 years old, weighs more than 40 pounds and is able to sit properly for the entire ride, he or she can safely travel in a booster seat. If your family is traveling somewhere that will require you to switch cars often, there are options on the market that offer travel friendly features. Some travel booster seats will convert into a backpack your child can carry, others fold down to be no bigger than a clutch purse and some can inflate with just a couple breaths when you need it. Regardless of how it travels, make sure you look for one that enables the seatbelt to be properly fitted to the child.
A note on car seats and booster seats: Do not use a booster seat if the seat is lap belt only because the child will lose all upper body protection. This rule holds for planes as well as automobiles. Most airlines will allow you to transport your car seat. If you buy a separate ticket for your child, you can even use a car seat as you would in an automobile.
Other Things to Consider
Regardless of your means of transportation, consider packing only what your family will really need. Bringing only the necessities can reduce the stress of making sure your belongings reach their destinations. However, when it comes to car seats, borrowing one can be tricky.
Make sure you can trust your source and ask questions about the car seat’s history:
- How long have they or their friends had it?
- Is there a sticker that shows the date of manufacturing?
- Has the seat been involved in a car crash?
Most car seats expire around six years from the date of manufacturing because the plastic will start to deteriorate and any car seat that has been involved in a collision should be considered compromised. When in doubt, bring your own seat.
To ward against the endless refrain of “Are we there yet?” be sure to pack something to keep the kids entertained. Whenever possible, choose soft toys. In the event of a sudden stop or collision, anything not secured can become a projectile – a 1-pound object at 30 miles per hour will hit with a force of 30 pounds. If you plan on loading up a tablet or other electronic device with favorite movies or TV shows, look for soft/plush child-friendly cases.
Sometimes when children get bored in the car, they may start playing with unused seatbelts. If the child becomes tangled, the belt may lock causing a strangulation hazard. To prevent this, buckle and lock all unused seatbelts that are within reach of the child. To lock the seat belt: buckle it first, then pull out the seat belt all the way at the shoulder and let it go in slowly. Listen for a clicking sound. This means it switched to locked mode. Let the belt go in the rest of the way. Now, the child will not be able to pull out the unused seat belt.
When your family is safe on every ride, regardless of the mode of transportation, the summer fun can keep on rolling.