Child-proofing your car means more than buying a car seat, as I recently discovered when a neighbour called in a panic
She’d left the kids asleep while she unloaded the shopping – but one awoke, locked the car and began to explore. At the top of a steep driveway with no guard rail. And she didn’t know where the spare key was…
As it always has been, keeping kids safe in the car can be as simple as not leaving your keys in the ignition, and your kids unsupervised.
But nowadays there’s a lot more to it than that, and though it’s impossible to completely child-proof your vehicle, you can ensure it’s as safe an environment as possible
Modern cars incorporate a host of child-friendly features as standard. That starts with ISOFX child seat anchor points and locking reel seat belts to hold child restraint or booster seats firmly in place.
Children under five must use an approved child restraint. Plunkett branches rent them out, or you can buy one. Try the seat in your vehicle first, as not all are compatible with every car, and use a booster seat from the age of five.
Children inappropriately restrained in an adult seatbelt are 3.5 times more likely to be injured than their same-age peers restrained in a booster seat. Their heads are disproportionately large, which strains those fragile necks; their internal organs are under-developed; and their bodies too short for the proportions to work. Research shows the adult belt is truly effective only for people over 147cm in height, and all others should use a booster seat to be safe.
In a booster or out, if your car’s got child locks for the rear doors use them, and only load or unload your children onto the pavement, as and when you say.
However much they beg, don’t put them in the front seat; most crashes are frontal impacts, while small children may be injured by the airbag that would save an adult.
Strap them in, and regularly check they haven’t unfastened themselves.
Choose a car with driver-operated electric window isolaters, so small children can’t open their own windows.
Never leave a child unattended in a car, or the keys inside it even as you walk around to let them out. And always know where your spare key is stored!
Children easily over-heat. If you can, buy a car with air conditioning and remember the back seats are often hotter than the front, as there are fewer air vents back there.
While you’ll concentrate better if the children aren’t fidgety, only give them soft toys to play with – hard items become missiles in a crash. Carry storybook cassettes or play games. Even children too young for ‘I Spy’ the traditional spelling way will enjoy the colours variant.
Lock the car when it’s unattended, even at home, and remove the cigarette lighter – small children easily burn themselves with it. And don’t be tempted to turn and issue a reprimand while driving; if necessary pull over and stop to have that pointed word!
Get it right and not only are you keeping your kids safe, you’re teaching them good habits for the future.
And what did I advise my neighbour? To put firewood behind each of the wheels to buy time before junior discovered the handbrake. That calmed her enough to remember the spare key’s location, and reminded me to find mine…
Read the previous Girl Torque column here.
Jacqui Madelin is our expert car reviewer and on the board of the AA Driver Education Foundation.