The Ultimate Car Safety Guide:

Avoid these mistakes when driving with kids

Driving with kids can be challenging sometimes: from struggling to strap them into their car seats to constantly having to pay attention to what is happening on the road and on the backseats at the same time. Having young children on board makes driving with caution all the more important.

While it can be taxing driving with kids, car safety should not be taken lightly. The WHO notes car traffic accidents as the leading cause of death for children above the age of 5 and young adults world over. It is estimated that road accidents claim the lives of 1.35 million people each year around the globe. Another statistic by the Federal Statistics Office (Destatis) from 2018 indicates that the majority of children physically harmed in car accidents were back-seat drivers rather than young cyclists and pedestrians.

Factors that significantly increase the risk of children sustaining injuries in car accidents include improper use of car seats, not buckling in the kids, the driver not wearing a seatbelt, and driving under the influence.

The best way to avoid accidents and ensure safety for your kids is to be well prepared before the journey even starts. Making thoughtful decisions when it comes to choosing car safety features and avoiding some key mistakes is the best way to ensure a safe ride with the kids.

Here are some mistakes that could compromise the safety of you and your kids while driving:

1. Choosing the right car seat

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For infants, it is recommended to place the car seat in a rear-facing position which is considered the safest. An infant car seat can be installed in the rear-facing position and double as a baby carrier as well.
For toddlers, a forward-facing car seat is recommended. Keeping this in mind many parents tend to choose a car seat convertible which can be used in both positions. The only downside to this is that a convertible is rather bulky and cannot be used as a carrier. For older children, a booster seat helps buckle seat belts correctly.

Car seats significantly reduce the risk of injury to children, so parents should always make sure their kids are strapped into one when on the road.

Even if you are renting a car for a vacation it is important to utilize the child car seat option. Most car rental companies gradually reduce the cost of child seats the longer you rent a car so renting the seat for a day alone will be a rather pricier option. Weekly prices start can start at only 60 EUR at Avis or Europcar but vary among car rental companies. Rental fees at Hertz (67.20€) Buchbinder (67.55€), Budget (73.80€), Sixt (73.92€) and Enterprise (77.98€) reflect the average price level around 72€ per day for a children car seat.

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As children need different types of car seats as they are growing up, finding the right one can be difficult. If you would like to find out more about how to choose the right child seat, whether it will be for your own car or a rented one, check out the Joonko Guide ‘Safely on the road’.

2. Using a car seat correctly:

A car seat is necessary for ensuring safe travel with children; however, using it incorrectly can decrease its efficacy. Some common mistakes that people make when using a car seat include not positioning it in a manner that gives you the tightest fit, the incorrect use of lower anchors, forgetting to use the top tether, and forgetting to secure the harness straps correctly.
Parents should also keep in mind that lower anchors in a car seat are designed to bear a maximum weight of 29 kilograms and it is best not to exceed that limit. It is important to upgrade your car seat as your child grows and surpasses the weight limit for the car seat you own.

3. Make sure that the car seat is properly installed

When installing a car seat make sure the seat belt slides through the guides (blue for rear-facing and red for forward-facing car seats) and you hear an audible click when closing the belt lock. The shoulder belt should go around the car seat on the head area through the guides.
For rear-facing car seats, the handle must always stay upright when inside the car. Parents should also make sure not to recline rear-facing seats too much and leave a gap underneath as it will hinder its shock-absorbing function and an optimal performance.

4. Make sure to activate child safety locks and lock power windows

Safety locks on the car doors prevent children from opening the doors while the car is moving or even standing still. The safety locks are usually present on the inside of the car door, however, if you are unsure where to find them you could view your car’s manual.
Power windows can be another hazard for kids so making sure to lock power windows when traveling with the kids is necessary. Young children of 3 years of age and below are most at risk. They can accidentally trigger a power window letting their fingers, hands, or even heads caught in between causing serious injuries.

5. Never leave a child alone in the car

Children could get exposed to a number of dangers if left in the car alone. They could manage out of the car seat and play with the controls making the car move. Moreover, when the weather is particularly hot the inside of the car can get overheated which can be extremely harmful for children strapped inside alone.

An overheating car could put kids at risk of suffering dehydration or heat stroke. At an outside temperature of 35°C, only a 15 minute exposure to the sun can heat up the inner of a car up to 46°C. Young children are particularly vulnerable to heat as the body temperature of a toddler can climb three to five times more quickly as compared to an adult. Therefore parents should avoid leaving the kids alone in the car even for a few moments as they rush outside for a quick errand.

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6. Follow the law to ensure safe driving

Many of the state laws designed for drivers are made to ensure road safety. When behind the wheel with kids in the back following rules becomes imperative. Drivers should keep all their attention on the road and avoid using mobile phones and other electronic devices which could divert attention.
Drivers should avoid speeding and drive at a reasonable speed. Speeding gives the driver less time to react, impairs quick decision making and can be very costly. Exceeding the speed limit by just 10km/h results in an immediate 30€ fine and an exceedance by 21km/h will already cost driver’s their licence for a whole month, at least. Drivers who use their mobile phone while on the road have to expect a minimum fine of 100€. This can easily turn into a 300€ fine including a one month driving ban and a penalty point for the personal record when causing a dangerous situation or even minor accidents. It is also important to avoid driving if you feel exhausted or have consumed a significant amount of alcohol as the road awareness and reactional speed decrease significantly. German authorities even regard driving with a 1.1% blood alcohol percentage as a criminal offense (Straftat) instead of just a minor offense (Ordungswidrigkeit) and therefore, impose much tougher punishments.

7. Keep an emergency kit inside the car at all times

Even if you take pride in your cautious driving it is best to prepare for the worst scenarios by keeping an emergency kit in the back of the car at all times. An emergency kit could include first aid, jumper cables, a blanket, and tools for fixing any technical problems with the car.
Always check the weather report before heading out to avoid driving in poor conditions. Keep your phone fully charged and keep the car tank full.
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8. Keep the car well maintained to avoid accidents

One of the surest ways to avoid running into accidents is to keep your car well maintained. Check the car’s tires weekly and make sure you have the recommended tire pressure. Replace them when they get worn out for a safe journey on the road.
Make sure to replace worn-out windshield wipers as a broken or non-functional wiper could impair visibility during heavy snowfall and rain. Regularly check the brake fluid and brake pads and replace it if need be. If your car battery is more than 3 years old make sure to get it checked. Keep an eye on battery cables and terminals and make sure that they are secure and in good shape.

9. Generally make sure you have complete insurance coverage

When travelling abroad by car, drivers have to adapt to new and probably unfamiliar circumstances in traffic. Therefore, it is indispensable for drivers to face this comparably higher risk with higher caution and the right car insurance for the destination country.

It is recommendable to first check, if the current insurance for your home country may be valid in the target country. Most comprehensive insurance policies already include sufficient coverage for most european countries. But as some car insurers even exclude certain EU countries from their coverage regarding car theft or just the theft of car parts, it may be necessary to close a short term foreign damage protection in order to ensure sufficient coverage when driving abroad.

As a proof of a valid insurance coverage for the foreign country, drivers need to carry their International Motor Insurance Certificate or so called ‘Green Card’. It includes important information on the responsible insurer, contact details and emergency numbers.

10. Plan your breaks in advance

To avoid fatigue during long journeys, drivers should plan their breaks according to the route in advance. Specially when travelling abroad and with kids, it may be beneficial to be well informed about service stations and rest areas nearby.

Car travels are not only tiring for the driver. Young children often struggle with the lack of movement and need regular stops even more. This helps not only keeping the body fresh but can also make an immense difference when it comes to diplomacy with the kids during the ride. Crayons and paper, audio books, card games, quizzes, riddles or other games can help keeping a cool head in meantime.

Most service station operators provide information about their station network online and can help planning your stops. To be flexible and avoid bad surprises, inform yourself beforehand, which stations actually have proper sanitary facilities, a restaurant or a playground.

Conclusion

Driving with kids can be a handful and it can take every ounce of your energy to keep the kids calm and keep your attention from diverting. Preparing beforehand makes things a lot easier so that you can drive with confidence. Keep the above-mentioned points in mind and avoid some common mistakes listed above to drive safely with the kids.