1. Choose your car carefully
If you are buying a car, choose one ranked as highly as possible for safety and with the lowest emissions.
Study the safety ratings given to vehicles within their classes by the charity EuroNCAP, which crash tests vehicles and provides ratings for adult and child occupant safety. All modern cars will have seat belts; however, you can also check out the number of air bags in a car, and the protection they provide to different parts of people’s bodies in different seats in different types of crashes (frontal, side or rear).
The EuroNCAP ratings will also tell you the protection that a car offers to people outside your vehicle. Some cars now come with autonomous emergency braking systems, that aim to help you brake quickly if a person is in the road. Some cars have bonnet and windscreen designs that aim to be more forgiving in a crash with a person on foot or bicycle, for example by using softer, bendy materials or even fitting external air bags to A frames (the metal around the windscreen).
Consider swapping a petrol or diesel car for a hybrid or electric car.
2. Fit and use child restraints, always
Always use a modern baby or child seat suitable for your child’s size and weight. Buy one with the United Nations E mark or BS Kitemark and never use one that is second-hand.
Rear-facing seats are safer for babies. Do not move them up to their next child seat until they are too tall or heavy for their rear-facing baby seat.
Keep using a child seat appropriate for your child’s size until they’re 150cm tall, even if your child complains they are “too old” to have one. Help your child to understand that their seat is special – it helps keep them safe.
Child seats that have backs and sides, and are correct for your child’s height and weight, are safer than booster cushions. Manufacturers are no longer allowed to develop booster cushions or backless booster seats for children shorter than 125cm or weighing less than 22kg.
For any older children above 125cm and 22kg who are using only booster cushions, it’s important to remember that head restraints on car seats used by those children, and any other vehicle occupants including you, should be adjusted so the top is about level with the top of the head and right up against the back of their head, so the head won’t be able to fly backwards in a crash. If a head restraint is missing, wobbly, or too low, it won’t protect the neck from potentially debilitating or fatal whiplash injuries.
Fit and sit right. Follow the fitting instructions exactly for any child seat. If possible, fit the seat in the middle of the back of your car. On every journey, always check that all children in your car are correctly restrained before setting off, and children know the importance of not fiddling with their straps or undoing them during the journey.
Essentially, your child must have good protection behind their head and neck, and their child restraint straps (or, for older children, their seat belt), must be correctly threaded and fit correctly and snugly across their shoulders and pelvis.
Never do any of these things:
- Never hold a child in your arms in a vehicle. The child would be likely to fly out of your arms in a crash.
- Never use one adult seat belt to restrain both you and a child. The child would be crushed by your body in a crash.
- Never use one seat belt to restrain more than one person.
- Never carry someone else’s child in your vehicle if you do not have a child restraint appropriate for their size and weight.
- Never allow someone to travel unrestrained.
How to choose the right size for your child
3. Slow and shhh!
It’s really simple, but so many parents drive a little bit too fast, or talk on phones while driving, risking the safety of their family and other people outside the vehicle too. It’s because parents are often in a rush and have busy lives.
We must all put safety first instead. Speed is a number one killer.
The faster we drive, the less time we have to react and stop in time.
Distraction from talking on a phone, either hand-held or hands-free, also causes deaths and injuries.
- Always drive slowly – 20mph or below in communities, and also slow down on bendy rural roads, where you don’t know what is round the next corner.
- Turn your glove box into a phone box. Switch your phone off and put it away in there.
- If your phone has a ‘Do Not Disturb While Driving’ option, make sure you have this turned on. You’ll be able to read any messages when you arrive at your destination.
- Ask a child in your car to be your police officer. Tell them they should speak up for safety if they think you are driving too fast or you are tempted to take a call.
4. Don't drive children all the way to school
Ideally, no child should be driven to school. There should be safe pavements and segregated cycle paths to enable them to walk or cycle to school safely.
If you do drive your children to school, for example because school is some distance away and there is no accessible public transport, then one contribution you can make to safety and the planet is to walk part of the way.
Try to find a way to park safely some distance from the school and walk the rest. This keeps traffic away from the school gates and crossing places that children routinely use. It also helps your children be healthier and spend more time with you and their friends while walking to and from school.
5. Remember children are in the car
Never leave children alone in vehicles.
Tragically, some very young children have died in cars when they have been forgotten by their parents and left in hot cars. Always remember your children come first. Never leave children alone in vehicles.