Kristin Bailey Murphy
Have a Safe Trip
Most parents think it will never happen to them, yet thousands of car accidents occur each year. According to the National Highway Safety Transportation Agency, 8,000 American children die in auto-related accidents each year -- 20 every single day.
So how can you help protect your children? Follow these hard and fast car safety rules:
Don’t Drink and Drive Ever
Although all 50 states have strict child safety seat laws, not all parents buckle up their kids. And those who do are most likely doing it wrong without realizing it. A recent NHSTA study showed that 80 percent of car seats are installed improperly.
Never allow your children to ride in a car without the proper safety restraint in place. "The safest place for a child age 12 or under, and under 59 pounds, is in a properly installed, age- and height-appropriate car seat or booster seat in the back of the vehicle," says Eric Bolton of the NHTSA. "It's a good idea for all families to take their cars in for a safety seat checkup as well." Most local police stations offer this service free of charge.
An estimated 10 percent of all motorists chat on their cell phones while driving, according to the NHTSA. You may think you’re paying attention to the road, but every time you pick up your cell when you’re driving, you put your family at risk.
Only use cell phones in an emergency. That goes for hands-free phones as well. "If you're talking on a phone while driving, there's going to be cognitive impairment regardless of the kind of phone you have," Bolton says. "If you're involved in a conversation, you're not going to be able to drive a car as safely, period."
Don’t Discipline From the Driver's Seat
About 25 percent of car crashes involve some sort of driver distraction, according to the NHSTA. Sibling squabbles or temper tantrums are a common distraction for parents behind the wheel. "I've had so many near-wrecks when my kids are fighting in the backseat," says Lisa Brown, 37, of Oklahoma City. "I'm trying to be a referee and a chauffeur at the same time -- but I know turning around to split them apart while I'm driving puts us all at risk on the road."
Stay focused on the road -- don’t turn around. "If the kids are out of control, get out of the traffic zone and into a safe place before trying to calm them down," says Bolton. "And if you're on the highway, never pull over on the side of the road. Get off on the nearest exit and get to a rest stop or parking lot to regroup." Also, if your child is crying because he dropped something, don’t reach for it while driving. If you absolutely have to retrieve it, pull over to a safe place and get it.
Never Drive Drowsy
When you're a parent, you're no stranger to sleep deprivation. But driver inattention is the leading factor in most crashes and near-crashes, according to a 2006 study done by the NHTSA and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI). Drowsiness impairs performance and can ultimately lead drivers to fall asleep behind the wheel.
Do your best to get enough sleep. However, if you’re forced to take the wheel when you’re sleepy, do what you can to stay alert. Drink coffee, turn on the windshield wipers, crank the radio or blast the air conditioning to awaken your senses. "If you still feel tired, safely pull off the road and check into a motel, or go to a friend's house to get yourself revived -- whatever it takes," advises Bolton.
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