If your next vacation is a road trip, then be prepared: Your car is about to become a mobile family room. Childproof it accordingly. This will probably take some time, so start a few days before your trip. Here's how:
1. Go for a tune-up. For smooth sailing (and overall sanity), make sure your car is in good working order. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends that you have your tires, battery, belts, fluids, and air conditioner checked by a qualified mechanic. If you're driving in a hot climate or towing a boat or trailer, you may need a motor oil with a higher viscosity.
2. Get a good night's sleep. According to the NHTSA, driving while drowsy is a contributing factor in 100,000 accidents annually. Drive only when well rested, and switch off with another adult every few hours, if possible.
3. Give your car seat or booster seat a boost. Not sure if your car seats or booster seats are installed 100 percent correctly? Eight out of 10 aren't, putting children at serious risk for injury or death. Call 866-SEAT-CHECK to find a nearby location for a free safety seat inspection.
4. Gear up for safety. The NHTSA recommends packing an emergency kit that includes:
- Warm blankets
- A flashlight
- Jumper cables
- Tools to change a tire
- A fully charged cell phone
- A first-aid kit
It's also wise to subscribe to a roadside assistance plan -- just make sure you know where to call in an emergency and what kind of assistance your policy includes.
5. Be sun smart. Equip all family members with sunblock and sunglasses -- you may even want to pop hats on your little one's heads and invest in a sunshade for your backseat. When you leave the car, cover safety seats with blankets so they don't get too hot and burn a baby's tender skin, and do a touch test before letting pint-size passengers pile in. Never, ever leave kids alone in the car. With the outside temperature at just 80 degrees, the interior of a parked car can reach deadly temperatures in just seconds.
6. Scour the backseat. Make sure child safety locks are activated on windows and doors within reach of curious hands. You'll also need to remove any poisonous substances, such as washer fluid, from your backseat. Next, look around for choking hazards -- knobs that pop off easily, loose change between the seat cushions -- and remove potential projectiles (hard books, toys, etc.). When your vehicle is traveling at 40 miles an hour, so is everything else in it. Stop suddenly or get in a crash and anything that's not strapped down will keep moving until it hits something, like you or your child, points out Carole Guzzetta, director of the National Safety Council's Occupant Protection Program in Washington, D.C.
7. Keep the weight down. Store heavy items low in the seat wells so they won't become projectiles during a sudden stop. For the same reason, suitcases, strollers, and anything else stowed in an open cargo area should be battened down.