As a parent, it's essential to become a very safety conscious driver, but even so it's still worth reminding ourselves occasionally of the risks that driving with children brings, and what to do to minimise them.
Anything that takes your attention away from the act of driving can be fatal. Changing a radio station, leaning over to pick up a dropped toy, telling off a noisy child in the back seat … the list is very long. Always try to pause and think before instinctively reaching for the water bottle my child is asking for, or opening the electric window for them – is it safe to do this now? Can it wait until I stop or at the very least until I slow right down? As I write this, it seems obvious, but I know how easy it is to automatically respond to a child, after all most of us do it all the time when we’re not in the car!
Children themselves can be very distracting in the car, particularly if they’re tired, bored or uncomfortable and constantly wanting your attention. This can be a particular problem on longer journeys, of course. You can help by getting them to play games such as I Spy (this is also good for helping to avoid car sickness as it gets them looking out of the window). Just make sure that you are not distracted by the game yourself! If you make sure that they are warm and comfortable, especially on long trips or night-time journeys, they will be more likely to sleep and less likely to complain. A comfortable car seat is essential, and you can also consider using a travel sleeping bag, which are especially designed for use in car seats. This will keep them cosy and helps them to settle because they are used to sleeping in it at home.
OK, so what else do you need to remember when driving? Well, there’s seat belts, of course. Now, always strap your child in yourself- no matter how much they will want to do it themsleves, then test the belt for any slack. If you have to ignore your child’s protestations that ‘I CAN DO IT!’ then so be it – better that they're safe, even if you have to suffer a tantrum!
I can’t stress enough the importance of getting a good car seat and, just as importantly, of fitting and using it correctly. A poorly fitted seat can be almost as bad as no seat at all, so read the instructions carefully. Sometimes shops will offer to fit the seat for you, but you should make sure that you can do it for yourself because you’ll have to take it out to clean every now and again. Likewise, be aware of the regulations for using car seats and booster seats, which you can find here. Deactivating front seat airbags is something that many people don’t know how to do, so make sure that you know how this works if you’re going to sit children in the front seat.
Finally, make sure you use your car’s built-in safety features, for example switch on child locks for doors and electric windows, if you have them. And one other tip - when your child is shouting ‘overtake that car Mummy!’ on the motorway, ignore them. Safe driving everybody!
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