When several people — be it mothers, fathers, grandparents or babysitters — are caring for a preschooler, things can get confusing. Travel safety concerns may arise.
A consistent transportation plan is especially critical when traveling with preschoolers who feel too independent for a car seat.
“Our older girls had absolutely no issues with staying buckled in at all times. However, our 2-year-old daughter discovered how to unbuckle the top strap on her car seat, and once I had to immediately stop the car,” says Sarah Strayer, Palm Beach County mother of three.
This experience has led her to caution parents to prepare ahead and never assume all children will behave the same way in the car.
Grandparents can prepare for car trips to make the experience enjoyable for all.
“Be sure to stock up and pack the pockets behind the front seat with cardboard books, especially ones with buttons to push and make sounds,” says Ann Pennington, Palm Beach County grandmother of five children. She switches up her book selections every now and then.
Kelly Powell, former program director for Safe Kids Palm Beach County, answers the above questions and others:
Q: WHAT ARE SOME RULES FOR CAR SEATS AND BOOSTERS THAT I SHOULD ENFORCE WHEN SOMEONE ELSE TRAVELS WITH MY CHILD?
A: Ask the difficult questions. You need to find out if they follow the same rules as your own family. Be aware of parental driving behaviors and family lifestyles. You need to be very familiar with whom your kids are riding. If your child is invited on a playdate after school, ask if they have an extra booster seat for your child. If not, ask if they will use one if you send one.
Create and enforce a family transportation plan that everyone discusses and agrees to and that applies to every ride, for every person. Talk about how no one should ever text and drive. Avoid distractions. Make safe choices. Discuss the importance of keeping everyone safely buckled at all times without exception, even the parents.
Q: HOW CAN I TACKLE A TOUGH CONVERSATION WITH A GRANDPARENT OR ELDER WHO FROWNS ON USING A CAR SEAT OR BOOSTER BECAUSE THEY DIDN'T USE THEM WHEN RAISING KIDS?
A: Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death to children ages 2 to 14 and the leading cause of injury-related deaths for children under 2. Correctly used child safety seats can reduce the risk of death by as much as 71 percent. Most grandparents today didn’t grow up using seat belts for their kids because there wasn’t this extensive research, and also families weren’t on the road as much. We spend much more of our time in cars now, and we know that seat belts and car seats absolutely save lives.
Q: WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I NOTICE ADULTS, ESPECIALLY FROM SCHOOL CARPOOLS, NOT USING CAR SEATS OR BOOSTERS APPROPRIATELY WHEN TRANSPORTING MULTIPLE CHILDREN FOR EVENTS?
A: Talk directly to administrators about your school’s transportation safety plan. Does it specify that everyone in the car must buckle up on every ride using the right car seat, booster seat or seat belt for each person’s age and size? If not, then have a direct conversation about the rules of the road. Children must use a car seat, booster seat or seat belt, and always ride in a backseat and never in front of an airbag. Car seats should have all of their parts, labels and instructions and should have never been in a crash. Children should never be left alone in a car.
Q: WHEN USING PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION WITH TODDLER, SUCH AS A TAXI, UBER OR BUS, SHOULD I BRING A CAR SEAT OR BOOSTER? IF THERE ARE NO SEAT BELTS TO SECURE IT, IS IT BETTER TO HOLD MY CHILD OR USE THE CAR SEAT?
A: Just because you are in someone else’s car, you are not in a magic bubble. It is your parental responsibility to make sure your child is buckled safely on every ride in the appropriate child restraint. No matter where you are going, follow your family transportation plan.
On public transportation, it is a good idea to use the car seat or at least a seat belt whenever available, primarily because you are creating good repetition for your child. Buses are much heavier than cars and do absorb crash forces differently, so it is not legally required to have a child restraint. You can hold the child on your lap if there are no other options.
Q: WHAT ABOUT AIRPLANES OR RENTAL CARS?
A: Most airlines do not require a child to be in a car seat. Because many devices are large, most won’t fit in a seat. When we buckle up on airlines, we are primarily protecting ourselves from turbulence because most airline crashes are deemed unsurvivable. If you are traveling with your own car seat and not using it on the plane, it is recommended that you gate-check it to keep it on top of the baggage stack and prevent damage.
If someone is picking you up at the airport and you don’t bring your own car seat, ensure the driver will have the appropriate, safe car seat for your child. Take time to make a plan regarding if the car seat will already be installed or if you will be installing it yourself. If renting one from a car rental company, make sure it is an up-to-date model.
Q: ARE THERE ANY QUICK AND EASY RESOURCES TO DETERMINE THE RIGHT SIZE/TYPE OF A CAR SEAT OR BOOSTER FOR MY CHILD? IS IT BASED ON AGE, HEIGHT OR OTHER FACTORS?
A: In Palm Beach County, we have a number of child safety seat inspections offered to the community throughout the year. Call Safe Kids Palm Beach County at 561-841-3500, extension 4012, to find the closest location. You can also find inspection locations by downloading Children's Services Council's free SafeMap app. Click here to download it for iOS or click here for Android. Many local inspection stations offer new seats at a discounted price.
Toddlers and big kids use forward-facing car seats. Use the top tether designed for the seat and have your child remain in this car seat until he or she outgrows the harness. Many harnesses go to 50 pounds or more.
If your child is less than 4 feet, 9 inches tall and has outgrown the weight and height limits of the forward-facing car seat, transition to a backseat booster. The child should ride on the booster using a seat belt with lap and shoulder straps. The lap belt sits low on the hips, not on the stomach. The shoulder belt is on the shoulder, not on the neck, under the arm or behind the back. The seat belt is snug, flat and comfortable. He may be between 8 and 12 years of age before the seat belt fits.
FIVE TIPS FOR CAR SEATS:
Seventy-three percent of car seats are not used or installed correctly, so check these guidelines before hitting the road:
Right seat: Check the label on your car seat to ensure it's appropriate for your child's age, weight and height. Like milk, your car seat has an expiration date, so be sure to check that too.
Right place: Kids are VIPs. (Just ask them.) VIPs ride in the backseat, so keep children in the backseat until they are big enough to ride without a booster seat.
Right direction: When your children outgrow their rear-facing seats, move them to forward-facing car seats. Attach the top tether after you tighten and lock the seat belt or lower anchors.
Inch test: After installation, shake the car seat at the base where the seat belt fits. Can you move it more than an inch side-to-side or front-to-back? It should not move more than an inch.
Pinch test: Ensure the harness is tightly buckled and coming from the correct slots (check car seat manual). Pinch the strap at your child's shoulder with the chest clip at armpit level. If you can’t pinch any excess webbing, you're ready to roll.
SOURCE: Safe Kids Worldwide
• Kelly Powell, former program director, Safe Kids Palm Beach County