Between everyday errands, school pick-ups, drop-offs and extracurriculars, it’s not unusual for parents to think of their vehicle as a second home, but the reality is, your car is one of the most dangerous places a child can be. Keep these tips in mind to help ensure your vehicle is as child-friendly as possible, no matter what their age.

Tidy up your car

Items in your car that once seemed innocuous take on a whole new meaning when you become a parent. Miscellaneous objects like coins, chargers and tissues suddenly become choking hazards in the hands of curious children. That’s why it’s important to keep anything small enough to fit in a child’s mouth tucked away and out of reach.

Larger loose items should always be secured before driving with a child in the car, because in the event of an accident or emergency stop, any unsecured items can quickly become projectiles and dangerous to everyone in the vehicle.

Don’t leave your child unattended

There are many reasons why you should never leave your child alone in the car. Aside from the obvious potential safety hazards, leaving a child alone in a vehicle on warm days can have serious consequences. A child’s body (particularly younger children) can heat up three to five times more quickly than an adult, making them susceptible to life-threatening conditions like heat stroke in a very short period of time.

Children can also be incredibly distracting for parents while driving (shocking, we know). That’s why it’s best to drive with another adult in the car who can keep an eye on your child. Since this is often unrealistic, installing a safety mirror is a good alternative. This allows you to keep your child in view without constantly turning around to check on them.

Choose the right car seat

Your child’s first car seat is something you’ll have before they are even brought home from the hospital. Here is a general guide for choosing a car seat, however, you should always adhere to the weight and height restrictions as specified by the car seat manufacturer:

  • Infants and toddlers should only sit in rear-facing seats until they exceed the height/weight limits as stated by the seat manufacturer (usually around age 2).
  • When they’ve outgrown their rear-facing seat, toddlers or preschoolers move up to a forward-facing seat with a harness (most of these seats can accommodate children up to 65 pounds or more).
  • School-aged children should use a booster seat once they’ve outgrown the forward-facing seat restrictions. At this point, they should sit on a belt-positioning booster seat until the seat belt fits properly without the extra height.
  • Children should sit in the back seat until the age of 13.

Consider sun protection

Most cars feature laminated glass windshields, which filter out ultraviolet light, but rear and side windows are usually made of non-laminated glass, which protect from UVB but not UVA rays. Unlike UVB rays which cause visible redness and sunburns, the effects of UVA rays are less detectable, but these harmful rays have a longer wavelength than UVB light and penetrate skin more deeply as a result.

If your child is in the car for a long period of time, it’s a good idea to apply sunscreen to the parts of their body exposed to sunlight through the window, especially for babies and toddlers whose skin is extra sensitive. Fabric or sticker shades are a simple solution that will help protect your child from the sun in their eyes. For a more permanent solution, you might consider getting your back side windows tinted, which is legal in British Columbia but depends on the province.

Take advantage of child locks

Child locks on doors and windows are a parent’s best friend. These inventions are great for preventing your child from exiting the car at inopportune moments (like when the vehicle is moving or stopped at a light). Unfortunately, in some emergency situations child locks do more harm than good. As your children gets older, teach them how to climb into the front seat and escape through the front doors, and how to help their siblings do the same.

Stay on top of vehicle maintenance

While the occasional flat tire is unavoidable, often car trouble that leaves you on the side of the road is preventable with proper vehicle maintenance. Make sure to get your summer and winter tires changed out each season and stick to the servicing schedule recommended by your manufacturer. In case you do end up stranded on the road, always keep an emergency kit in your vehicle stocked with snacks and warm clothing for you and your children (for more tips on building an emergency kit, visit our blog on Winter Tips for Safe Driving).

Model safe behavior 

As they grow older, your children will look to your habits to influence their future driving behaviour. Because of the lasting impression your actions will leave, it’s important to train yourself to practice safe habits while driving, such as pulling over to use your cell phone, wearing a seatbelt and avoiding aggressive driving. For more tips on being a positive influence on the road, see our blog on How to Be a Good Passenger and Teacher to a Young Driver.