If you’ve ever flown on an airplane, you’ve heard the flight attendant instructions to put the oxygen mask on yourself before assisting your child or other passengers. It should be no different when you are in a vehicle. You’ve done the research and made sure your children and passengers are properly restrained, but are you? As the driver, you are responsible for yourself and everyone in your vehicle.
Wear Your Seat Belt
Wear your seat belt, too!
Using the seat belt is the single most effective way to reduce injury. In 2014 more than 2.3 million people were treated in Emergency Rooms as a result of injuries from motor vehicle accidents. Buckling yourself in does more than make that irritating chime stop sounding.
The vehicle seat belt keeps your lower and upper body restrained, so you’re less likely to slide out from under the belt, or impact the steering wheel or another interior part of the car. It also keeps you in position to optimally impact the airbag. The airbag is an explosion from your dashboard; if the airbag deploys when you’re facing the wrong angle, or at the wrong time, an airbag can become quite dangerous.
The vehicle belt also keeps you in the car. That sounds like a no brainer, but staying in the vehicle and not being ejected means you benefit from all of the safety features of the car. In addition, you’re not out in the road being run over and your own car doesn’t land on you. Equally as important, you don’t have injuries from being thrown 20+ feet and impacting the ground at crash speeds.
Keep Your Car in Working Order
Cars in working order are safer than broken ones!
By keeping your car well maintained, you reduce the chance that your car will be the source of a crash. If the tires have low pressure, or are getting bald, for instance, they may blow at highway speeds. If the car is low on oil, the engine could stop working in the middle of the highway. Even something as mundane as refilling the windshield washer fluid can allow you to see where you’re going; in the winter if you can’t clear your windshield of slush and mud you may not be able to see. Working headlights and turn signals not only make your life easier, but lets you, as a driver, communicate with other cars on the road so they don’t misinterpret your direction.
Mirrors serve a very important role in vehicle safety. Contrary to what one misguided sales person once told me, vehicle mirrors aren’t there so women can put on their makeup. Instead, the mirrors help reduce or eliminate blind spots. It sounds like a fun fact from high school driver’s ed, but take the time when you’re either in a new vehicle or someone has been driving yours to reset your mirrors to a safe location. Side mirrors should be set so that you have a clear view on either side, with only a tiny bit of the back of your car showing to situate your location. Half your side view mirror shouldn’t be taken up with a reflection of the side of your car. Merging onto the highway is not the time to remember you haven’t adjusted the mirrors and you can’t see anything.
Airbags: Keep Your Distance!
Something that probably has not occurred to most adults is how close they’re sitting to the airbag in front of them. Most adults dislike being shoved into the dashboard, so it’s often not a problem, but there is an optimal distance to sit from the airbag to reduce the chance of injury.For the driver, keep a safe distance of at least 10 inches between the steering column and the driver’s breastbone. In most cases, if you can rest your wrists comfortably on top of the steering wheel, you’re probably far enough away from the airbag.
On the passenger side, because the airbag is bigger, this minimum distance between the dashboard and the passenger’s breastbone is 20 inches. The passenger airbag is set further away from the passenger, but comes out nearly as far as the driver’s. As a passenger, allow nearly two full feet between your body and the airbag.
If you have a rear facing child behind you who is limiting this distance, there are a few tricks to try to keep everyone riding safely. You can try to move the car seat to a different seating position, adjust the recline angle on the child restraint to be more upright if possible, or the front seat passenger can sit more upright (but still a safe distance from the airbag) to allow for that extra space between the dashboard and the passenger. Another option is sitting in the back behind the driver, if there is a lap shoulder belt and head restraint available. That may work better than being too close to the airbag.
Keeping kids safe is something everyone who is reading csftl.org wants to do, but we also want to keep their parents and family friends safe as well. Don’t sell yourself short just to protect the child. Likely, both can be done.
Types of Airbags
In addition to front airbags, many vehicle have side curtain airbags. I’m sure most parents reading this remember resting their head on the door to sleep. Today, that’s a dangerous proposition as the side curtain airbags may deploy out of the door, or down toward the door, and having a head resting in that deployment zone may increase the chance of injury. Ideally you will keep five inches between your body and that airbag (even when falling asleep in the back with the kids!). Five inches isn’t a lot of space, and most people will find that just by sitting in a proper position they will naturally have a safe clearance from the airbags.
Minivan cargo area loaded for a longer trip
I’m constantly amazed at people at car seat checks who tell me they won’t have a heavy object/family dog/IKEA boxes in the car at the same time as their baby. But they don’t think at all about having those same objects in the car while they’re driving. Obviously, we would love to never have projectiles in the car, but then there’s also real life.
If you have something like an Ikea run to do, load the car smartly. Put the heaviest stuff as close to the back of the back seat as possible so the boxes don’t have time and space to gain momentum to move forward. If you can strap them down front to back and side to side, please do. Otherwise, do the best you can. Check your car’s airbag section for information about objects touching the back of the front seats, as something pushing against the back of the front seat may deactivate one or both front airbags.
For everyday cargo, like groceries or a briefcase, put the bag on the floor in the back seat of the vehicle, on the floor in the passenger footwell, or in the trunk. If you have an open truck, consider using a cargo net over items, or install a hardware mounted gate so the trunk is actually a separate space.
In this day and age no one can say they are never a distracted driver. The radio needs changing, the temperature isn’t right, the child in the backseat decided to throw the third fit of the ride. We’ve all been there. Some of it we can’t control: kids will be kids. If necessary, please pull over into a safe place to deal with a fit, or turn up the music and just head home if being home will solve it faster.
One thing we can control is texting behind the wheel. At 55 mph, the average text takes your eyes off the road for the length of a football field. Whatever the text is, it’s not worth doing while you’re driving. Pull over to a safe place to text back. Or just wait and tell them whatever you need to at a later time. Not texting while driving means you are far more likely to have that later time.
It’s a message that’s said a million times a day, but it’s a message that needs saying a million more times a day.
While many states have laws prohibiting holding a cell phone while driving, most allow the use of so-called hands free devices. While it might FEEL safer, according to the National Safety Council who aggregated the results of 30 studies, a hands free device is no less likely to cause a problem than simply holding the phone.1 Bottom line? Those old bumper stickers get it right. Hang up and drive. If you have an important call you HAVE to take, pull over at the nearest safe, well lit spot and call back from the Park position.
Enjoying your favorite recreational and legal drug may be fun, but getting behind the wheel of the car high or drunk is a very obvious way to hurt yourself and others. 28 people in the United States die every day due to the actions of an impaired driver. Please, if you have been drinking or smoking, wait. Take a cab or get a ride from an Uber. Call a friend for a ride. You’re worth it, your kids are worth it, and the other people on the road who may be hurt or killed are also worth it.
Read more from NHTSA about drunk driving.
It’s so easy to get angry when a fellow driver commits a thoughtless or unskilled action near you on the road. Resist the urge to escalate — better to stay safe than to engage an angry stranger! If you feel yourself getting frustrated, it may be time to take a break. Stop by your local coffee shop or even just pull into a parking lot for a breather. Getting angry at other drivers is not going to improve your driving; it will only make the situation worse.
Speeding also a dangerous habit, and a factor in nearly one third of all fatal accidents. Getting there faster isn’t worth the risk. Drivers that speed also tend to participate in other unsafe behaviors such as aggressive driving, drunk driving and distracted driving. It reduces the time you have to react to potential crash and can increase the force of the crash.
At CSFTL, our primary focus is on keeping children safe in the vehicle. While this remains our focus, we recognize that the FIRST line of defense in protecting a child in a crash is not to get into an accident in the first place. The decisions you make behind the wheel are just as important as choosing, installing, and correctly using any child restraint.
1 : Lane, K. (2014, April 1). National Safety Council poll: 8 in 10 drivers mistakenly believe hands-free cell phones are safer. Retrieved September 14, 2016, from http://www.nsc.org/NewsDocuments/2014-Press-Release-Archive/4-1-2014-DDAM-opinion-poll-results.pdf