In this day and age, most people have a driver’s license or regularly use a motor vehicle in the United States. Becoming 16 and getting your license is a right of passage among modern Americans. In order to become a driver, everyone must pass a driver’s safety test- and with good reason. The CDC states that there were “22,441 passenger vehicle occupants died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2015.” Additionally, more than 2.5 million passengers and drivers were treated in the Emergency Room for injuries related to motor vehicle collisions in that same year. So, for this week’s post, I am going to explore motor vehicle safety. Hopefully we can reduce the number of collisions and injuries on the road, one smart choice at a time!
First up is car seat safety! The National Highway Safety Administration has information about the types of car seats and recommendations regarding their use. A rear facing car seat should be used, at minimum, for all children under 12 months. If your child is still below your car seat’s maximum height and weight requirements when they are 12 months of age, continue to keep your child in the rear facing car seat until they reach that limit, or until they reach 3 years of age. Follow whichever happens first. Why? This is because rear facing car seats are the safest for your infant or toddler. The only notable exception to this rule is if your child was born premature. Since it may be more difficult for a premature child to breath in the inclined position of a car seat, he or she may need to use a car bed or have an adult attend to them in the back seat during car rides. Parents of premature infants should consult their pediatrician for the best and safest practice for their child. Most children are ready to move up to the next seat around 2 years of age. After using a rear facing car seat, a child should move to a forward facing car seat until they reach your car seat’s maximum height and weight limits or until they reach 7 years of age. After a child has outgrown his or her forward facing car seat, he/she should move to a booster seat that is forward facing and uses a seat belt. Your child may use a booster seat until 8-12 years of age, or until the seat belt fits properly without it.
Remember that a car seat or booster seat should always be placed in the rear seat of the car and never in the front seat. The safest place for a car seat is away from airbags, ideally in the center seat of a row of seats. This is safer than positioning the car seat near a door. Additionally, always fully buckle the car seat as instructed by the manufacturer and as instructed in your vehicle’s manual. A car seat or booster seat should be installed securely and properly, and a safety seat should only be used in the vehicle, not outside of it (ie: not as a place for a baby’s nap in the house). Ensure that the safety belts fit snug across the body. Shoulder belts should go across the chest and shoulder, not the neck, and the lap belt should go across the thighs, not the stomach. The back seat is the safest place for your child until they are 13 years old.
Adults and older children should also follow safety belt rules and regulations to protect themselves. According to the CDC, “every day, about 6,400 adults are injured in a crash.” Young adults (18-24) are less likely to wear seatbelts than any other age group and men are less likely to wear a seat belt than women. This is despite the fact that there are primary or secondary seatbelt laws throughout the country. This is despite the fact that seat belts “reduce serious crash-related injuries and deaths by about half.” For those who don’t know, a primary seat belt law is one that allows a police officer to pull over a car for a driver or passenger not wearing a seatbelt, whereas a secondary seat belt law means that if a driver is pulled over for a different offense, the officer can issue a ticket for not wearing a seat belt.
If you are interested in your particular state’s facts and figures regarding seat belt use and motor vehicle collisions, the CDC has a list available here.(There are more visual aids and state comparisons here.)
Beyond safety belt use are concerns over the driver’s condition. These include things such as drunk driving or distracted driving. In 2010, the CDC reported that 112 million adults drove while intoxicated. 4 out of 5 of these drunk drivers were men and those who binge drink were more likely to get behind the wheel than those who don’t. While many teens and young adults may argue in favor of a younger drinking age, by keeping the legal limit to 21 years old, we are able to keep inexperienced and drunk drivers off the road. Choosing a designated driver, drinking wisely (not binge drinking) and preventing others from drinking and driving can reduce the problem nationally. The National Safety Council also notes that driving the speed limit, using extra precaution in locations where children might be present (especially while driving in reverse), as well as refraining from driving after consuming illicit drugs or prescription medications, especially those that may make you drowsy.
You are the best advocate for safe driving. Wearing a seat belt, being a proactive driver, and making smart decisions about your role as a driver or passenger can help prevent accidents, injuries, and even potential death.