· By Tiny Hearts
Keeping Your Kids Safe In And Around Cars
Injuries to little ones from cars can be life-threatening. These are the most important things you should research and consider when it comes to keeping your little ones safe in and around cars.
Kids passing away from being locked in hot cars is an uncomfortable topic, but it needs to be spoken about because it's preventable. One of the most devastating parts about it is that it can happen to even the most loving, attentive parents, who are sleep-deprived, distracted or have experienced a change in routine.
When locked in a hot car, the biggest risk is life-threatening heatstroke, which happens when the body is not able to cool down quickly enough. Even on cool or cloudy days or when parked in the shade, cars can heat up quickly, regardless of their size, colour or if the air conditioning was on previously. Even opening a window slightly doesn't prevent a car from heating up. When it's hot weather, inside the car can be up to 40 degrees hotter than the temp outside. When it's cold outside, inside the car can be up to 20 degrees hotter. In both cases, most of the increase in temperature occurs in the first five minutes.
To try and prevent this tragedy from happening, try using the CARSS acronym:
Coach: teach your little one that cars aren't somewhere we play.
Alert: try and minimise distractions when driving to a drop-off location, particularly if this drop-off is not a part of your normal routine.
Routine: create a routine of visually checking the backseat before getting out and having bub's care provider check-in if bub hasn't arrived by a certain time on expected days.
Stow: keep your bag/ phone/ shoes on the backseat to force you to turn around when you arrive before getting out. Alternatively, keep bub's daycare bag on the front seat as a reminder that they are in the car with you.
Send for help: if your child is locked in a car or you see any child [or pet] unattended in a car, call for help straight away. If they look hot, distressed or are unconscious, call 000 immediately and follow their instruction.
In Australia, between 2001 - 2010, 66 little ones were hit around the home by cars at low speeds and killed. 54 of those were in their driveway, and 12 were in other locations around the home. The majority of these occurred during daylight hours and 60 of these little ones were aged 4 or under.
For more recent stats, NSW Gov reports that on average, 5 little ones are killed and 47 injured in driveways each year Aus-wide. Since 2013, 6 little ones have lost their life and 15 were seriously injured in driveways in NSW alone. These stays are heartbreaking and way too high.
While accidents happen, to try and prevent these driveway tragedies, think about:
- Making a habit of walking behind the car before reversing to triple-check that it's clear.
- Organising for whoever is staying at home with the kids waving goodbye from the door or porch while the other reverses to reduce the risk of an accident to absolute zero if everyone is outside. If kiddos are inside, lock the front door and make sure the garage door is closed before reversing out of the driveway.
- When out walking/ scootering/ bike riding, teach kiddos to stop at driveways and triple-check it's clear before going ahead. If your little one is still young, get them to wait at the driveway for you to say something like 'next' or 'ok' to indicate to them it's ok to cross that one and to stop at the next one.
- Teach the kids that we don't play in the driveway or around our cars, ever.
CROSSING THE ROAD
In 2018, of all the kids who passed away due to some form of road traffic accident, 29% were pedestrians, and 5.9% were riding their bikes. Those numbers are just too high, and while they may have been exactly that, accidents, road-aware kids come from proactive parents who take the time to teach them.
From the moment my little ones could walk, I introduced road safety. I ingrained the habit of holding an adult's hand when crossing the road so much that they will automatically reach for my hand before we've got to the end of the street. They know to cross at the zebras on the road [pedestrian crossings] and to wait for the green man and funny noise before crossing the street.
Here's how I taught them about road safety:
- Hold their hand to cross the street every time, from the very beginning.
- Describe what you're doing when you cross the road ["stop, look left for cars and bikes, right, left again. Can't see any, can't hear any; safe to cross with an adult".]
- Always cross at a crossing where possible.
- When out walking, explain things like you have to wait for the green man on the crossing sign.
- Teach them to stop a few steps back from the curb edge instead of right on it.
Here's what the adults in our family do to keep them safe around roads:
- Get the youngest out of the car first and carry them before getting older kiddos out so they don't run while our backs are turned getting the baby out.
- We hold hands when crossing the street or in a carpark every single time.
- We emphasise once a ball leaves the grassed area, we stop chasing it and find an adult.
- Talk about road safety and demonstrate how to cross the road safely because kids model what they see.
It's hard work and a big commitment to introduce and maintain these principles. But I do it in the hope that one day when they aren't with me while near the road, they'll keep themselves safe.
CAR SEAT SAFETY
Car seats are designed to keep our little ones safe in the car, especially if in an accident. The problem with car seats is that important information about them is often not widely known, so here are some car seat facts that you MUST know to keep your little one safe in the car:
- Car seats have an expiry date, often found on the side of the seat. Usually, it's ten years from the manufacture date in Australia.
- When rear-facing, the shoulder straps should be at or slightly above bub's shoulders but never below [AUS guideline].
- When forward-facing, the shoulder straps should be at, but not more than 25mm below, your little one's shoulders [AUS guideline].
- In 2017, safekids.org reported that up to 59% of car seats are not installed correctly, with many sources quoting figures higher than that in more recent times.
- Shoulder straps should be tight enough that you can't pinch any slack.
- When tightening Isofix, the side indicators must turn green on both sides.
- All car seats and boosters have height indicators on the sides with specific instructions based on that height.
- Little ones must be aged 7 and over to sit in the front seat. However, research tells us that it's safer for kids under 12 to sit in the back seat. The only exception is if all other seats are already taken by little ones aged under 7. In that case, a 4-7 year old can sit in the front in an untethered booster seat.
- Rear-facing is recommended for as long as possible for little ones, as it's reported to be much safer by supporting the head and neck in an accident compared to forward-facing.
- If a car seat has a top tether strap, it must be attached to a fitted restraint point in the car.
- By law, little ones must be in a rear-facing car seat until at least 6 months but can remain rear-facing in a correctly fitting car seat until four years.
- By law, kids aged between 4 and 7 must be in a harnessed or booster seat. By law, kids must be aged over 7 to use an adult seatbelt and regular seat without a fitted car seat or booster.
- To move into an adult seat, kiddos should pass the '5-step test'.
- Car seats must meet Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 1754, which will be written on the car seat if compliant.
REAR-FACING CAR SEATS
Rearward-facing car seats are the safest option for transporting little ones who still meet the seat guidelines for rear-facing [under the height marker]. Although the law states a baby must be rearward facing for at least the first 6 months; it's now recommended that you keep your child rearward facing for as long as possible, up to 4 years of age! Remember, age is only a guide; the height of your child is a better indicator of when you need to change to forward facing. My little one is approaching 3 and still safely fits in his rearward-facing seat. A lot of manufacturers are now bringing out car seats that accommodate extended rearward facing.
WHY IS IT SAFER?
Infants have relatively large heads and weak necks, which puts them at particularly high risk of serious injuries if the head and neck are not supported. A rearward-facing seat is safest as it keeps your child's head, neck and spine aligned during an impact. The seat cradles your child and better absorbs the forces of the crash. With the forward-facing seat, the harness slows the movement of the body forward, but there is no support for the head, neck and spine, which causes it to be thrust forward with immense force. If you were involved in a car accident and your child was forward facing, the force on their neck would be 190kg-220kg. If the child were rearward-facing in the same accident, the force would be 40kg-60kg.
WHAT IF YOU'RE IN A REAR-END ACCIDENT?
These types of accidents are usually less severe and at lower speeds. Even in a rear-end accident, a child is much safer in the rear-facing position. In a rear-end crash, the child's head is positioned towards the middle of the car, protected by the sides of the seat. So no matter where that impact is, to the front, the rear, or the side, rearward facing is the safest position.
WHAT ABOUT THEIR LEGS?
While rearward facing your child's legs might seem a little squished, and in an accident, the legs might experience the force, but children are flexible; they dont even notice or know the difference! In regards to the force on the legs, the saying goes, 'better a broken leg than a broken neck'. With everything we do as parents, we must thoroughly research, weigh up the risk vs benefits and do what we feel is informed and best for our children.
CHOKING IN THE CAR
If you're driving down the highway, most [if not all] of your attention should be on driving. Considering choking is silent, if your little one is eating in the car while you're driving, you might not even notice that they're choking unless they're thrashing around and manage to get your attention.
Once you've noticed they're choking, you've then got to find somewhere to pull over safely, slow down, call 000, get out of the car, run around to bub's car seat, get them out of the car and begin delivering life-saving back blows and chest thrusts while directing the ambulance on where you're located and what's happening. Depending on where you are, how far into the choking episode you realise what is happening, the traffic and if you're on your own, it could be a significant amount of time that passes before you're able to intervene to save bub's life.
If bub is rear-facing, being able to identify bub is choking adds another level of difficulty. If your little one isn't used to not eating in the car, it might be a bit of an adjustment, but over time they will get used to not eating in the car. In our family, we offer food before we leave and after we arrive. The risk just isn't worth it.
I hope that helps you feel more confident and empowered when it comes to little ones and keeping them safe in and around the car. In the original post, I'd love to hear; what are your top tips for keeping your little ones safe around cars?
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