Injury is the #1 killer of children and teens in the United States. In one year alone, more than 9,000 youth age 0-19 died from unintentional injuries in the US while millions more suffer injuries requiring treatment in the emergency department. Leading causes of child injury include motor vehicle crashes, suffocation, drowning, poisoning, fires, and falls. Child safety is among the most under-recognized public health problems facing our country today.
The good news is child injury is predictable and preventable!
How to Practice Child Safety While on an Extensive Road Trip
Ready to increase the safety even more as we gear up for road trip season? Here are a few ways to increase safety on the road:
- Make sure the vehicle is well-maintained. This seems like an obvious safety tip, but many parents head onto the road without being able to recall the last time their car got a maintenance check. Worn-out tires and brake pads are just two potential safety issues. No amount of driving safely or making sure the inside of the car is handled is going to make up for a vehicle that needs servicing.
- Always triple-check for medications. Whether your child has a prescription for a mental health disorder, an EPI pen, or you’ve established a solid habit of melatonin for sleeping, forgetting medication can seriously increase the risk of injury. What if you do forget something? Prioritize picking it up from a local drugstore or call your doctor to have a prescription sent to a regional pharmacy while you’re on the go.
- Keep tabs on your own energy levels. You wouldn’t drink and drive, especially with kids in the car, but what about driving tired? Studies have shown that it’s just as dangerous as driving drunk. You might have to drive shorter trip legs when children are aboard since more passengers will naturally require more of your energy.
- Find a solution to keep children from fighting. Some parents get creative, like building a temporary physical barrier between their children’s seats. Others rent a vehicle with three rows to decrease the odds of fighting. No matter what the solution may be, it not only saves your sanity but also increases safety. Distracted driving is more than checking your phone. It’s any form of distraction, including trying to referee a kid’s fight that’s taking place in the backseat.
- Give yourself extra buffer time when planning the road trip. You might know it takes exactly six hours to reach your destination, but with kids in the car? Consider adding on at least ten percent more time per child. You’ll likely be taking more restroom and snack breaks, driving more carefully, and may need to take more rest breaks yourself. Ideally, a road trip with children is packed full of things to do or on a very tight schedule. Slow down, take it easy, and enjoy time with the family.
- Secure comfortable sleeping quarters. You might be able to make it work in a hostel or car camping when you’re road tripping alone, but when children are on the trip it’s more important than ever for everyone to be well-rested. This might mean spending a little more on hotels or a house share, or taking advantage of free places to stay with friends and family along the way. Part of positive parenting is modeling good behavior and showing your children how to prioritize solid sleep.
- Check your first aid kit before you leave. You likely already have a first aid kit in the car (if not, you should), but when is the last time you checked the contents? Make sure no items are expired and that you’ve upgraded from the little kid Band-Aids to “grown-up” Band-Aids if this is something that will cause a fuss with your child. First aid kits are only helpful if they have what you need.
- Make sure your children know what to do if you’re separated. Every family has a different plan if a child gets lost. Some children wear an accessory with parental contact information, others depend on a “secret word” if a stranger approaches them (to know if the parent actually sent the stranger), while other children have simply memorized what to say and their home contact information. However, traveling is a little different. You may want your child to know where you’re staying throughout the trip, the car’s license plate number, or other details beyond your phone number and address.
- Download an app to be able to quickly find children’s hospitals near you. If there’s an emergency, the last thing you want to do is to be Googling the best children’s hospitals in the area. Spend a little time updating all of your apps before a road trip to maximize comfort and safety.
We urge all parents and caregivers to get informed and be part of the national movement to reduce child deaths and injuries. Too often, deaths and injuries are preventable and caused by simple mistakes. Spending a little time learning about risks and actions to take before disaster strikes should be a top priority for everyone. How can you increase the safety of the children in your life? To learn more or get involved, visit americanspcc.org for more information.
Rachel is a freelance writer and a self-proclaimed “Travelholic” currently writing for Volkswagen Kennesaw. She is honored to be writing for American SPCC and strongly believes in their mission to nurture and protect children, give kids a voice, and ensure that every child has the chance to blossom into an outstanding adult. In her free time, you can find her planning her next trip, running with her dogs, or heading to the closest farmers’ market.
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