Being in charge of the school run can be hectic – having to remember all the games kits, musical instruments and perhaps an ever-shifting roster of after-school clubs and activities. Whilst under pressure it can be easy to forget a few basic driving safety rules, too.
Around 25 children aged up to 11 years old are killed each year while travelling in cars; about 250 are seriously injured, and 6,000 slightly injured. Using an infant carrier, age-appropriate child seat or booster cushion is crucial to keep children safely restrained in your car, to restrain them in the event of an impact and limit the extent of their injuries. However, some still let their children pile into the car without proper protection, and many do not know how to correctly fit child seats in their vehicle.
A recent survey for a child car seat manufacturer actually found that one in five parents often let their child travel without a suitable seat – despite this being illegal. It also found that a quarter of parents do not know how to correctly fit a child seat in their car. In spot-checks, almost a third of child car seats anchored using adult seatbelts have been found to be incorrectly installed.
Children up to 12 years old or 135cm (4ft 5in) tall must, by law, sit in a specific child seat. Babies up to 13kg in weight should travel in rear-facing seats, the government recommends. Though children are generally safer in the rear seats of a car, if you must carry your baby in the front, the passenger-side airbags must be deactivated. Many cars will have a switch or key to do this. Larger infants – from 9kg to 18kg – can travel in forward-facing seats, and from 15-25kg, older children can graduate to Group II (booster) seat which are held in place by the adult seatbelt or anchored using the ISOFIX system (which will become compulsory in all new cars from early 2012). Children from 22kg, and up to 135cm tall, can use booster cushions, which raise them to a height whereby an adult seatbelt can offer sufficient protection.
There is much detailed advice online on how to correctly fit each type of child seat, including excellent video tutorials from the consumer association Which? and extensive information from road safety campaigners and motoring organisations such as the AA and RoSPA. Make sure you have the right seats for any other children who may have a lift in your car – and that any other parent taking your child on the school run is likewise equipped.
Don’t be distracted
To help prevent an accident in the first place, you have to keep your attention on the road. Establish a few basic ground rules for behaviour in the car, and make it clear that fighting is not allowed. Position one child in the front and another in the back, if that’s what it takes to prevent in-car hostilities. Remember that children under 12 will need an appropriate child car seat to sit up front.
Remember too that any loose objects – toys, schoolbags, games consoles or books – can become high-speed missiles in an impact. Get your children to stow their bags safely under the seats or in the boot, even if this makes getting in and out of the car a slower process. Also encourage them to put any items they’re not using in seat-back pockets, compartments in the door, the centre console or in other storage facilities your car may have. Keep any pushchairs, scooters or bikes securely anchored in the boot – don’t just throw them onto the floor in the back or across the rear seats.
It’s also important to make sure that your car insurance policy covers all of your family’s needs. Not all policies will cover or replace child seats, for example, or offer a sufficiently large, like-for-like courtesy car if yours needs to be repaired.