The other day, my husband and I were loading some tables into the back of his John Deere Gator when one of our children slid over from the passenger seat and turned the key in the ignition. Now, the Gator was in neutral with the parking brake on so it wasn’t going anywhere, but we both got a shock when we heard the engine start. My husband quickly reached over and took the keys, and we gave our curious child a lesson about how dangerous it is to play with vehicles. We both think of ourselves as being very careful around the kids, but this was an excellent example of how quickly accidents can happen – even to the most cautious parents.
This experience got me thinking about vehicle safety and how we need to be extra vigilant with our children. If your family is anything like mine, you’ve probably got one child who does things you never thought they would do – until they do it! So, I spent a little time putting together some information about vehicle safety. I hope you find this information helpful.
Car Seat Regulations -
Did you know that effective January 1, 2012 California law requires all children under the age of 8 years to be secured in a car or booster seat in the backseat? This is a change from the previous law that required children under 6 years or 60 pounds to be secured in a rear seat child restraint device. However, children under the age of 8 who are 4’9″ (57″) or taller may be secured by a safety belt in the backseat.
According to the CHP, buckling up is the single most effective thing you can do to protect yourself in a crash. Seatbelts are also the best defense against impaired, aggressive and distracted drivers. Remember that most collisions occur within a mile of home, so be sure to properly secure all your children for every trip, no matter how short.
Every year, over 2000 children are killed or seriously injured because a driver backing up didn’t see them. This tragedy has occurred in our own community, and 70% of the time the driver is an immediate family member. Usually, backover accidents involve a larger size vehicle such as SUV, truck or van because they have a bigger blind spot, but these accidents can occur with any vehicle.
Be aware! Young children are impulsive and unpredictable. Their judgment is poor, they do not recognize boundaries such as property lines or sidewalks, and their concept of personal safety has not yet developed. Always walk and look behind your car before you get in, and look again before you back up. Go slowly and check your mirrors. Be extra vigilant when pulling into and out of your driveway and garage.
Use the same caution when moving forward to prevent a similar frontover accident. Even though a vehicle’s blind spot is smaller in front, such accidents can still occur. Again, 80% of these incidents involve larger size vehicles.
Heat Stroke -
With every heat wave, we are reminded not to leave children and pets in a hot car, but these tragedies still happen. In 2010, 49 children died after being left in hot cars. Children may be inadvertently left in the car or may have gotten into vehicles on their own. This can happen to anyone,so look before you lock! Check all seating positions and make sure no one is in the car. Or, put your purse or briefcase in the backseat with your child so you have to open the door to get your belongings. And remember not to leave your kids alone in the car for even a minute while you run a quick errand. The interior of a car can quickly heat to dangerous levels.
Other Tips -
Many newer cars come equipped with rearview cameras or park assist devices which can prevent a backover accident. You can install one of these devices on an older car for less than $100.
Internal trunk release mechanisms are now required on all vehicles with trunks made after 2002. These glow-in-the-dark release handles have been instrumental in preventing entrapment fatalities from curious kids playing hide and seek. You can purchase an after-market trunk release kit for as little as $14.99.
Finally, check to see if your car has auto reverse on all power windows and doors to prevent or lessen crush and strangulation injuries. And, many newer vehicles have transmission shift interlock that prevents a car from being put into gear without having a foot on the brake – something that’s very hard for small children to do.
Remember that kids are naturally curious and want to imitate what their parents do. Teach your children about the dangers of playing in and around vehicles. Always lock your car and put the keys where a child can’t get to them. And don’t forget that these safety tips extend beyond the family car to other vehicles such as ATVs, golf carts, and yes, the Gator.
For more information, kidsandcars.org is an excellent resource. Stay safe!