With so much emphasis on the unknown in recent months, it’s easy to overlook the routine precautions we’ve all heard before. Most people use vehicle transportation nearly every day, but rushed schedules or lax habits can make them less safe for the whole family. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that traffic accidents are the leading cause of death and disability for children nationwide, so there’s never a bad time to revisit best practices.
The most obvious point to cover is CAR SEAT usage. Kentucky law requires children less than 40 inches tall to ride in a car seat with a 5-point harness. Straps should come over both shoulders, buckle across the child’s chest at armpit level and also connect to a buckle between their legs. Car seats must be rear-facing until the child reaches age 1 and at least 20 pounds, though age 2 and 30 pounds are ideal. A seat should not move more than one inch in any direction when pulled.
Car seats should not be used if they are more than 6 years old or have surpassed the manufacturer’s expiration date. A car seat involved in an accident should be replaced, and using a seat with an unknown history is not recommended. Many stores offer trade-in programs where you can turn in an old car seat for a coupon to purchase a new one. Share the coupon with someone else if you don’t need it!
BOOSTER SEATS are required for children younger than 8 and between 40 and 57 inches tall. A child who happens to be younger than 8 but greater than 57 inches tall does not need to ride in a car seat, but a child older than 8 who is still below 57 inches should. This ensures that the seat belt comes across their chest instead of their neck. Research confirms that kids ages 12 and under should ride in the BACK SEAT to best avoid airbag injury.
The greatest danger to new teenage drivers—and indeed any driver—is DISTRACTIONS, namely cell phones. Set the example before your adolescent gets behind the wheel by not texting or looking at your phone while driving, and research apps like LifeSaver or DriveSafe Mode that disable or limit phone use in a moving vehicle. Further, parents should support open, calm communication about situations when kids/teens might be a passenger with a distracted driver. Agree to set up alternate transportation or make a plan for how they can reach you if they don’t feel comfortable in someone else’s car.
“The statistics on distracted driving-related accidents and fatalities are frightening, so clarifying the expectations for teen drivers up front—rather than after an incident—is best,” says Dr. Lawrence Jones at East Louisville Pediatrics. “We’re happy to support those conversations when we see your kids for appointments, so feel free to let your pediatrician know if this is an area of concern.”
Finally, support the safety of kids outside your own vehicle. Widespread school closures and reduced capacities meant fewer SCHOOL BUSSES were on the roads in 2020 and early 2021. As more kids return to in-person learning, exercise patience with their transportation. You may be surprised to learn that Kentucky school busses have some of the highest safety standards in the country, but car drivers must do their part to support that safety.
Never attempt to go around a stopped bus or speed past them as they are slowing down and activating their stop signals. If you are going the opposite direction of a bus, you must stop unless the road has a median separation or at least four lanes plus a turn lane in the middle. If in doubt, stop. It’s better to be honked at than risk a child’s safety.
For a breakdown of Kentucky car seat laws, visit https://transportation.ky.gov/HighwaySafety/Documents/childseat_info.pdf
For guidance on purchasing the right car seat, or to find a certified child passenger safety technician in your area, visit https://cert.safekids.org/
For visuals of Kentucky school bus stop laws, visit https://education.ky.gov/districts/trans/Documents/Stop%20Laws_ADA_EH.pdf