5 Ways to Keep Your Tween Safe in the Car
You’re done with car seats. Now there are other dangers to beware
When you’re shuttling kids back and forth in the car, it’s all too easy to let safety fall by the wayside. The 10-year-old begs to sit in the front seat for the 5-minute ride from school to baseball practice. The 12-year-old is so focused on her phone that she doesn’t bother to buckle up.
But just because your child has finally graduated from her car seat doesn’t mean you can be less vigilant about car safety rules. Eight-to-12-year-olds are especially at risk of being victims in accidents. Here are three things you should do to keep your tween safe in the car.
Don’t banish the booster seat too soon
In many states children are allowed to stop using a booster seat before turning 8. However, age shouldn’t be the guide — size should. A kid needs to stay in a booster seat until she’s at least 57 inches tall (4 feet 9 inches). Some tweens are 12 before they hit that magic height.
The reason is simple: In order for a seat belt to fit properly, a child should be able to sit with her bottom flush against where the seat back and seat cushion meet and bend her knees at the edge of the cushion at a 90-degree angle. (Her feet may or may not touch the floor.)
The shoulder belt should run across the center of her chest, and the lap belt should be low at her hip and not ride up on her tummy. Fitted properly, the seat belt will spread crash forces across the stronger parts of the body and reduce the risk of injury, explains Kelli England Will, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk.
Of course, a booster seat is going to be a tough sell to a tween. However, some boosters don’t scream booster seat, are easy to tote (important if you carpool with other parents) and use. One example: Safety 1st’s Incognito ™ Kid Positioning Seat.
Make buckling up non-negotiable
During the past five years, more than 1,500 youngsters between the ages of 8 and 14 have died in car, SUV and van crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Nearly half of them weren’t wearing seat belts.
Research has found that if 100 percent of children ages 8 to 15 used seat belts, compared to the current 72 percent, deaths and hospitalizations would be reduced by 45 percent and 32 percent, respectively.
The problem is so serious that the U.S. Department of Transportation is launching an advertising campaign called Never Give Up Until They Buckle Up. Its goal is to urge parents to not start the car until all kids are properly belted in.
Even if you’re traveling well below the speed limit, an unbelted passenger can be injured or killed in an accident. Consider this: In a 30 mph crash, a 60-pound child is going to encounter 1,800 pounds of force pushing him out of the car.
“Momentum and velocity change quickly when a car crashes,” explains Will, who’s an expert in child passenger safety and injury prevention. “It’s such a strong force you can’t hold yourself in position and there is no time to grab onto something.” A seat belt will prevent your child from being thrown around the car or even being ejected from it.
And don’t think for a minute that your child will be safe if you’re only going a short distance or driving slowly. “Most car crashes occur within ten miles of home,” says Will.
Just say no to the front seat
Kids under 13 need to ride in back. One reason: A child with a small frame could easily be injured if a front seat air bag deploys in a crash. That’s not all. Most accidents are front collision crashes. “The further a child is sitting from the point of impact, the less likely it is that she’ll get hurt,” adds Will.
Even if she’s properly belted, a child younger than 13 sitting in the front during a crash is at risk for serious injury, regardless of size, because her neck ligaments are especially flexible.
“If the neck isn’t developed enough to tolerate that front-seat crash load, you may have movement between vertebrae that can cause spinal cord damage,” says Joseph O’Neil, MD, a member of the committee on injury, violence and poison prevention for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Lay down the law
“Tweens will test limits. It’s how they learn,” says Mark Rosekind, PhD, administrator of NHTSA. “That’s why it’s critical that they absorb the message now: The car doesn’t move until everyone in the vehicle is buckled up.”
One possible script: “If you want me to take you to meet your friends at the movies, you must buckle up,” suggests O’Neil, associate professor of clinical pediatrics at the Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. “It doesn’t matter whether I’m driving fast or slow, you don’t know how fast the other guy is going, so for safety’s sake, buckle up. These are the rules.”
Practice what you preach
As a grown-up, you — and any other adults along for the ride — need to fasten your belt every time you get in the car so you give your kids a consistent message and example. And since tweens can sometimes forget, always check that they’re buckled in. A little diplomacy can’t hurt. For example, if your child wants to sit up front so she can control the radio, compromise: Tell her she has to sit in the back, but she can choose the station, advises Will.