How to Become a Safer Driver

Automotive Care & Other Necessary Precautions

Your Car Care Checklist

___ Check tire pressure every other month: Blowouts on the road can be terrifying and even deadly. Pick up a tire gauge at a hardware store, and ask a service station attendant to show you how to use it. Your vehicle manual will tell you where on your car you'll find the recommended psi for your tires. Many newer cars come with optional tire pressure monitors right on the dash.

___ Keep a first-aid kit on board: Check it once every few months to make sure medications aren't expired and that it's fully stocked. For a list of first-aid kit musts or even preassembled kits, log on to the Red Cross at redcross.org/services/hss.

___ Stock the car: Make sure you have a flashlight on board. "If you crash at night and your lights don't work, or even if you have car trouble, it's crucial," says John A. Brennan, MD, senior vice president of emergency and clinical services at St. Barnabas Health Care System, in West Orange, New Jersey. Keep a supply of dry snacks and bottled water on hand. During cold weather, put a couple of blankets, some mittens, and hats in the car.

Proper Car Seat Installation

Get your car seat professionally installed. Log on to the NHTSA site (nhtsa.gov) to find a certified passenger-safety technician near you. She'll help identify the best seat for your needs and for your car, she'll help you install it, and she'll show you how to use it. All, in most cases, free of charge.

Precautions for Changes in Routine

Every year between 30 and 40 young children die after being left in a hot car. In the vast majority of cases, these children aren't abandoned by irresponsible parents who go off to shop or gamble all day, says Janette Fennell, founder and president of Kids and Cars. It seems hard to believe that a parent could strap a child into his car seat and then forget he's there, but it can happen to an exhausted, overwhelmed new parent -- particularly if that child is facing the rear and thus out of immediate sight. Often the tragedy is due to a change in routine: For example a parent who is not typically responsible for daycare drop-off takes charge that day. Instead of doing the drop-off, the parent drives to work, and returns to the car at the end of the day to find the baby still in the backseat, dead from hyperthermia.

To prevent such a terrible occurrence, take every precaution you can: Fennell suggests always putting your purse on the floor in front of the backseat so you'll be forced to look there before leaving. You might also place a stuffed animal in the car seat when it's empty, and move the toy up front as a visual reminder when the baby is in the car. Lastly, "parents with children in daycare should tell the caregiver to always call them if the child has not arrived by a certain time," Fennell says.

Peg Rosen, who writes frequently about car safety, is a certified child passenger safety technician.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, June 2006.

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