Car and Traffic Safety Tips for Families
Posted on February 14, 2018 by CHS
Cars and other vehicles are everywhere, and it can often be a challenge to keep children safe around them. The first step is to make sure that you are aware of current traffic laws and have safe driving practices. You can visit the Department of Motor Vehicles website for your state to view the Driver Handbook and other notices. Click here to view the California Driver Handbook. The following sections will discuss specific safety concerns and the precautions you can take to prevent injuries from happening.
Pedestrians and Traffic
Car and traffic safety begins with teaching children how to keep themselves safe when they are near cars in driveways, parking lots, or on a street. Start by teaching your child how to walk safely near streets. The National Center for Safe Routes to School (NCSRTS) has written a Safe Routes to School Guide which explains what children are able to understand about traffic safety at each age and developmental level. It also provides parents and caregivers with information about how to teach children to be safe pedestrians.
As you take walks with your child, point out the various traffic signs and lights. Tell your child what they are called and what you should do when you see them. You can explain that red signs mean “stop” or “dangerous,” yellow signs mean “be careful,” and green signs mean “if it is safe, you can go.” Be a role model. Always walk on the sidewalk. If no sidewalk is available, then walk facing traffic so you can watch the cars coming towards you. When you are walking, put your phone, music player, and headphones in your bag. Walking while distracted can be just as dangerous as driving while distracted. Encourage children to watch and listen for traffic.
Show your child that the crosswalk is the safest place to cross the street. Teach your child to wait for a green light, and then look left, right, and left again to check that there are no cars before crossing. If your child is ten years old or younger, he needs to hold your hand when crossing the street. According to Safe Kids Worldwide™, children under the age of ten typically cannot judge the speed and distance of cars, and they still need an adult to determine when it is safe to cross.
Driveways and parking lots are not safe places to play. Children may fall behind a car backing out of a driveway, or run in front of a car in a parking lot. Teach children to check driveways for moving cars before waking in front of them on the sidewalk. If your child wants to play a game of basketball or color the driveway with chalk, park all cars on the street or inside the garage before allowing your child on the driveway. Talk to your child about the danger of chasing a ball that goes into the street, and supervise driveway play activities until your child is mature enough to judge what is safe or unsafe.
Prevent children from accessing your car without your knowledge by keeping the car keys out of reach at all times. Check the trunk of your car to make sure it is equipped with an emergency release lever. Make sure your child understands how to use the trunk release in case he ever becomes trapped inside.
Use the correct car seat or booster seat for your child, and make sure you have installed it correctly. If you are not sure which seat is best for your child, visit the New Car Seat Laws website. In California, you can also find detailed information on the California Highway Patrol website. Most police departments, Highway Patrol offices, or fire stations can check that you have correctly installed your car seat. For help with finding free car seats and car seat inspections, contact your local Resource and Referral Program.
Never leave children unattended in a car. Children left alone in cars are vulnerable to strangers, heatstroke, injuries from becoming tangled in a seat belt, or other injuries caused by miscellaneous items they may find in the car. If you have left your keys in the ignition, children may even try to start the car. It is only safe to leave children in the car if another adult is in the car to care for them.
Every year, young children are seriously injured or lose their lives from being left alone in a car or other vehicle. While they are in the car, the temperature can quickly rise and they can experience heatstroke. According to Jan Null, CCM of the Department of Meteorology & Climate Science at San Jose State University, the temperature in a car can rise 10° every 10 minutes, or up to 55° within an hour. To read more about why you should not leave a child or pet in your car, read our blog, The Danger of Leaving Children and Pets in a Car Unattended.
Always park in a safe location where you can clearly see what is near your vehicle, and at night try to park under a light. When you have to parallel park on the street, instruct your child to exit the car on the passenger (right) side. Ask him to wait for you to open the door for him. This will protect you and your child from traffic as you deal with car seats, seat belts, or strollers.
Avoid distracted driving. Put your cell phone and other devices away while you drive, and make a plan for keeping your child entertained. You could provide him with a small container of dry cereal, a cup of water, and an activity. He can read books, draw, or listen to an audiobook. For longer road trips you might want to try some of these car games from Care.com or Mommy Poppins.
When your child is ready to start riding a bike, purchase one that is appropriate for his size. It is a good idea to start with training wheels on the bike until your child is able to keep his balance on just two wheels. You will also need to purchase a helmet and safety pads for his knees and elbows. Teach him to ride on the sidewalk and use hand signals to indicate when he is stopping or turning. If you are going for an evening bike ride as a family, make sure all children are wearing reflective clothing and have a light on their bike. For more information on bike safety, visit the KidsHealth® website.
Children’s Books about Car and Traffic Safety
Reading books about safety with your child gives you the opportunity to discuss safety rules and traffic signs. You can find these books at your local library:
- Be Aware! My Tips for Personal Safety by Gina Bellisario (ages 3 to 8)
- Be Careful and Stay Safe by Cheri J Meiners (ages 4 to 10)
- I Read Signs by Tana Hoban (ages 3 to 8)
- Red Light, Red Light, What Do You Say? by Nicholas Ian (ages 3 to 8)
- Safety on the Go by Dana Meachen Rau (ages 4 to 6)
- Signs in My Neighborhood by Shelly Lyons (ages 4 to 8)
- What Should I Do? Near a Busy Street by Wil Mara (ages 5 to 8)
References and Resources
- 2018 Car Seat Laws: https://newcarseatlaws.com/
- Bike Safety from KidsHealth: http://kidshealth.org/en/kids/bike-safety.html
- California Driver Handbook from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV): https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/pubs/hdbk/driver_handbook_toc
- Car and Road Safety for Educators (tip sheets and resources): https://www.safekids.org/car-and-road-safety-educators
- Car Seats: Information for Families: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/on-the-go/Pages/Car-Safety-Seats-Information-for-Families.aspx
- Child Passenger Safety: https://www.cdc.gov/features/passengersafety/index.html
- Children’s Home Society of California’s Activity Book: https://www.chs-ca.org/_docs/CHS_ActivityBook_Eng_print.pdf
- Children’s Home Society of California’s Safety brochure: https://www.chs-ca.org/_docs/FEP_Safety_2017_English_web.pdf
- Fifty Three Fun Car Games for Kids: https://www.care.com/c/stories/3813/53-fun-car-games-for-kids/
- I Just Got My License, Now What? http://kidshealth.org/en/teens/new-driver.html?WT.ac=ctg#catdriving
- Information for Parents and Caregivers: https://www.nhtsa.gov/parents-and-caregivers
- Kids and Car Safety: https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/cars/kids-and-car-safety/index.htm
- National Safety Council on Heatstroke in Cars: http://www.nsc.org/learn/safety-knowledge/Pages/Kids-and-Hot-Cars.aspx
- Poster of Hand Signs to Use with Riding a Bike: https://www.safekids.org/other-resource/rules-ride
- Safe Routes to School Guide (PDF) by NCSRTS: http://archive.saferoutesinfo.org//sites/default/files/TeachingChildrentoWalkSafely.pdf
- Staying Safe in the Car and on the Bus: http://kidshealth.org/en/kids/car-safety.html
- Ten Cool Car Games for Road Trips and other Boring Backseat Moments: https://mommypoppins.com/los-angeles-kids/boredom-busters/10-cool-car-games-for-road-trips-other-boring-backseat-moments