How to keep your baby safe when you’re driving

Child safety seat

Source: Tammydz / Pixabay

My daughter and her husband are expecting their first baby this summer. Near the top of the list of things they’ll need is a good car seat. One that’s safe.

There are so many on the market these days it can make your head spin. The thing is, even if you buy the highest rated car or booster seat if you don’t install or use it properly you’re putting your baby at risk. According to Safe Kids Worldwide, that’s what happens 73 percent of the time. The organization developed a handy checklist to help you get it right.

Thanks to car seats, fewer children are dying in vehicle-related crashes than they were 20 years ago. But another sad truth is, even if your child is properly restrained he or she may still not be safe. Today, motor vehicle crashes are responsible for one of every four unintentional injury deaths in children under 13.

In a message on its website, Safe Kids Worldwide president and CEO Kate Carr says “For children, road traffic deaths are a true health epidemic, ranking as the number one cause of death for those between the ages of 5 and 19, both in the United States and around the world.”

Top causes of vehicle crashes

The major causes of fatal and serious vehicle-related crashes have always been alcohol and speeding, but now they’re joined by distracted driving.

Distracted driving is anything that takes your attention away from what you’re supposed to be doing — driving. Like using your phone.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety did a study in 2014. It looked at trips made by 105 drivers during one year and found that “the risk of a crash or a near crash was 17 percent higher when the driver was interacting with a cell phone. Much of the increase was attributable to reaching for, answering or dialing a cell phone.”

Texting while driving is what we tend to hear about most often and it’s one of the most dangerous things we can do. Texting and using the phone are right up there, but there are plenty of other things that can distract people when they’re driving.

  • Texting
  • Using the phone
  • Tending to kids in the car
  • Talking with other passengers
  • Trying to tune in a radio station, play a CD or listen to a podcast
  • Putting on makeup, running a comb through your hair
  • Grabbing a bite to eat
  • Fiddling with a GPS system or taking a “quick” look at a map

Car seat history

Back to car seats. When I was a kid, they hadn’t even been invented yet. Well, not safe ones. My parents had one that hooked over the back of the front seat, but it was only to keep the littlest of us from scrambling around the car.

Seats designed for safety were invented in the 60s, but not many people bothered to use them. More began to in the 70s and by the mid-80s, every state had passed a law requiring them for young children.

Today there is a wide variety of car seats, including booster seats. Some rear-facing, some front facing. Some for the back seat. Trying to understand which style for what age and where it should go can be confusing, especially for new parents.

The CDC developed an infographic that explains the basics.

Car seat info/CDC

If you’d like some hands-on help trying to figure out how to use a car seat, Safe Kids Worldwide keeps track of vehicle safety events going on around the country, including New Hampshire. And in Maine, Safe Kids Maine does car seat safety inspections at events and by appointment.

If you know of an event happening in Maine or New Hampshire, let us know in the comment box below. And please remember, after you’ve buckled in your kids, make sure to strap yourself in and don’t be a distracted driver. Sorry for preaching. It’s a motherly instinct.

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Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.