Kids and Cars

Never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly.
—Anonymous

For many parents, children’s automobile safety—from riding in car seats and boosters, to being passengers in other adults’ cars, to riding with friends and becoming drivers themselves—is a top concern. And with good reason: Research consistently shows that car travel is risky and that parents play the primary role in promoting safe riding and driving behaviors. Here are some ways to do that:

For more information kids and driving, see Driving Safety.

Tips for . . .

  • parents with children of all ages
    • At every age, make sure your kids know they can call you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week if they ever need help getting home.
    • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Before strapping your baby into a car seat, check with a physician or child safety expert on how to properly install a rear-facing infant seat. If your baby is born at a hospital, a staff member will be able to help you.
    • Even if your child is fussy, hungry, needs a diaper change, or is otherwise unhappy, remember that he or she is still far better off buckled securely into a car seat until you are able to stop the car and deal with the situation. Pull over in a safe location and address your child’s needs before continuing on your way.
    • Children older than one year and weighing at least 20 pounds may ride in a forward-facing car safety seat with full harness until they weigh 40 pounds. See the American Academy of Pediatrics web site for safety guidelines and current consumer options at www.aap.org.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • All children who have outgrown car safety seats should be properly restrained in the back seat of the vehicle in a booster seat until they are at least eight years old or at least 4’ 9” tall.
    • Your child is learning right now how to drive . . . by watching what you do. Keep your eyes and mind on the road (and not on your cell phone, food, make-up, or other distractions).
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • Children ages 12 and under should always ride in the back seat of a moving vehicle. Insist that seatbelts be fastened securely—no exceptions.
    • As your kids grow closer to driving age, they may have friends who drive. Be clear about your rules for riding with other drivers: For example, your kids may ride only with drivers who are not transporting multiple passengers and have not used alcohol or drugs, and must always wear seatbelts.
    • Talk now about family rules for future driving privileges—who will pay for gas and insurance, what expectations (such as grades) will need to be met in order to earn driving privileges, mandatory seat belt use, and so on. Allow your teens to be part of the rule-making process.
    • Be a major part of your teen’s driver’s education, both by modeling safe behavior and by letting her do a lot of the driving when you’re together. Offer clear feedback and calm instruction.
    • Know that not all teens want to get their driver’s license when they turn 16. His reluctance to learn to drive may be a way of signaling that he’s not yet ready for the responsibility.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Talk with your teen about the connection between driving and emotions. Point out that driving while angry, sad, or preoccupied can be as dangerous as drinking and driving. New drivers need to be in control of their own emotions and alert to the reactions of other drivers.
    • Realize that driving distractions are a safety risk for teens. Set clear limits on the number of passengers your teen may transport (for example, no passengers for the first three months, with a gradual phase-in of passengers over the next three months, and so on), cell phone use (pull over before talking), no eating while driving, and no listening to loud music in the car. Communicating clear expectations can go a long way toward helping teen drivers make wise decisions.
    • Establish a contract with your teen regarding driving rules. Include rules about transporting multiple passengers, night and bad-weather driving, distance from home and amount of continuous driving, and post them on your family’s bulletin board or refrigerator.
    • Gradually phase in driving privileges based on your state’s provisional licensing requirements and curfew laws, as well as your teen’s experience, level of responsibility, and safety guidelines.
  • Connect with other parents and try to enlist general agreement with them about rules for all the new drivers in your teen’s peer group.

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