Keeping Children Safe In and Around Vehicles

Michael Kelly

Child safety should be a top priority for all drivers. It is of utmost importance that they stay abreast of the rules and recommendations regarding child safety, not only because there are different guidelines for children of different ages, but also because laws, industry regulations and equipment change often. From determining the right size and style for a car seat, to deciding whether a child should sit in the front seat or back seat, when it comes to the safety of your youngest passengers, the choices you must make require careful consideration.

Remember, vehicle safety for the passengers of moving vehicles is only half the story. Attention to safety is just as important when the car is stopped. Drivers need to be keenly aware of children in and about the area surrounding their stopped car as well.

Here are some tips to help you keep child passengers and pedestrians safe.

Car Seats

Car seat technology is constantly evolving. Here are the current recommendations that you should follow based on your child’s height, weight and age. Please note that this information is meant to be informational in nature. If you have any concerns, many local fire departments will install and do a safety check of your car seat for you.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), car seat use reduces the risk of death in infants by 71 percent. Any child under the age of one should be placed in a rear-facing car seat secured in the back seat.

1 to 3 Years

One- to three-year-olds should be placed in a rear-facing car seat in the backseat. Be sure to check the manufacturer’s guidelines for the recommended height and weight for the seat. Once the child outgrows the recommended height/weight guidelines for their rear-facing car seat, place them into a forward-facing seat. Many manufacturers make adjustable forward-facing car seats that can be modified and adjusted as the child gains height and weight to ensure that the child is always safely secured as she grows. Forward-facing seats should also be placed in the car’s backseat.

4 to 7 Years

Your child passenger should remain in a forward-facing, adjustable car seat until they outgrow the manufacturer’s height/weight recommendations. Once the child out grows their forward-facing car seat, they can be placed in a booster seat.

8 to 12 Years

Children should ride in a booster seat until they are big enough to fit a seat belt properly. The upper strap of a well-fitted seat belt should cross the shoulder and chest, not the neck; the lower strap should fit snugly across the upper thighs and not the stomach. Children under the age of 12 should still remain in the backseat, even if they are large enough to ride without a booster seat.

Power Windows

Though convenient, power windows can pose a serious risk to children. Children are often attracted to power window controls and open windows which can easily lead to injured fingers, hands, and even heads. These tips on power windows should help keep children safe from harm while in your car:

  • Always check and be sure that child passengers aren’t in the way when windows are being closed.
  • Instruct child passengers not to touch the window controls.
  • Activate window locks to prevent children from opening or closing the windows.

Keeping Children Safe in Stopped Cars

Even stopped vehicles can be dangerous for children. Heatstroke, trunk entrapment, and vehicle rollaway can all cause serious injury and even death. But with a few simple safety tips, you can help prevent a tragedy.


According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the temperature inside your car can rise almost 20°F within the first 10 minutes of it being parked. An outside temperature of 60°F can result in a cabin temperature of 110°F if the car is parked for an extended period. In order to prevent heatstroke from occurring, follow these steps:

  • Never leave children in a car alone.
  • Never leave your car unlocked as children may get into it to play.
  • Always check to make sure that no one is in your back seat before locking your car.

Child safety shouldn’t be limited to only those in your car. If you see a child inside another person’s unattended vehicle, call 911 immediately and stay with the child until help arrives.

Trunk Entrapment

Trunk entrapment is so dangerous that, as of 2001, auto manufacturers are now required to install glow-in-the-dark release handles inside of all trunks. Children trapped in a trunk can easily succumb to asphyxiation or hyperthermia. Be sure to teach your children, or any children that will be staying with you, such as grandchildren, nieces and nephews, that trunks are for storing and transporting cargo – not for playing – and how to locate the trunk release in your car, just in case.

Additionally, keep rear-folding seats in an upright position so that children cannot crawl into the trunk from the backseat. If your car doesn’t have a glow-in-the-dark trunk release, speak to your vehicle manufacturer about having one retrofitted.

Vehicle Rollaway

Vehicle rollaway occurs when an automatic transmission car is shifted out of park and the vehicle begins to roll. This can happen even when the car is off if the keys are still in the ignition. This poses a major threat to anyone inside the car, as well as to nearby pedestrians. Even an experienced driver will have difficulty maintaining control of a rollaway vehicle because the car’s power steering and brakes will be deactivated. These tips can help prevent vehicle rollaway:

  • Never leave the keys in the ignition of an unattended car.
  • Always engage the car’s emergency break when it is parked.
  • Always lock your vehicle after checking to make sure that no one is in it.

In addition to these tips, teach the children in your life not to play in or around cars.

Backover Accidents

Backover accidents often involve the driver backing out of a driveway or a parking space and striking a pedestrian with the rear of the car. This is one of the most common ways in which children are severely injured or killed by vehicles. In order to prevent back over accidents from happening, adults need to not only become safer drivers, but also teach children how to be safe around vehicles.

When backing up your vehicle, you should always…

  • Ask children to move to the side of the street or driveway until you have backed out.
  • Check the area behind your car before getting into it.
  • Check your backup camera, if you have one, before reversing.
  • Always look in the direction in which your car is moving.

 Instruct children to…

  •  Keep their toys and bikes out of the driveway and the street.
  •  Never chase anything, such as a ball or pet, into the street.
  •  Stop playing and move to the side of the driveway or the street the moment a vehicle is turned on.

Whether it’s your own children, nieces and nephews, grandchildren, or the children of friends who will be traveling with you, knowing how to keep them safe is an essential skill for all drivers. By following these tips, you can help ensure the safety of child passengers and pedestrians. And by educating children on the dangers of vehicles, you help ensure the safety of generations to come.

READ MORE: Keep Your Pet Safe in Your Car

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