Comprehensive Children's Injury Center
Injury Prevention Tips | Traveling Safety

Tips for Keeping Children Safe While on the Road

At any age, when children are on the go - whether it be in the car, around the car, or walking - it is important to be sure they are safe no matter the method of travel. Children are never more vulnerable to injury and death than when they’re riding in a car. For many years, car crashes have been the number one killer of children in our country. However, when installed and used correctly, child safety seats and safety belts can prevent injuries and save lives.

In addition, when walking with children, start early and teach them safe pedestrian behaviors by modeling safe behaviors: cross streets at corners, use traffic signals and crosswalks whenever possible, and always look left - right - and left again before crossing a street.

Here are some simple ways to help your children stay safe while they are on the go.

  • To use any car seat correctly, pay close attention to the height and weight limitations specified by the manufacturer.
  • Parents and caregivers can make a lifesaving difference by making sure your child passengers are buckled into appropriate safety seats.
  • The safest place for children of any age to ride is properly restrained in the back seat.
  • Tell all drivers who transport your child that car seat or booster seat use is a must when your child is in their vehicles. 

Ages 0-2+

  • According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a should ride in a rear-facing car seat until they reach the upper weight and height limits of that rear-facing car seat. If your child outgrows his/her car seat before their second birthday, you may choose to purchase a new seat with higher height and weight limits.

Ages 2-4+

  • After the age of two or they’ve outgrown the weight and/or height of their current car seat, you can consider turning your child forward facing in their car seat with a five-point harness. Your child should remain in such a seat until he/she is at least four years old and weighs at least 40 pounds.

Between Ages 4-8 OR Until 4'9" Tall

  • All children who have outgrown child car safety seats and are at least 4 years old can use a booster seat until they are 4-feet 9-inches tall or are between 8-12 years of age.
  • Data show that for children ages 4 and over, booster seats reduce injury risk by 59% compared to safety belts alone.
  • For children who are riding in booster seats, never place the shoulder belt under the child's arm or behind the child's back.
  • Adult safety belts alone do not sufficiently protect children less than 4-feet 9-inches from injury in a crash.

Age 8 to Adult

  • When children are old enough and large enough to use the vehicle seat belts alone, they should always use both the lap and shoulder belt.
  • The lap belt should fit low on the hips, and the shoulder belt should fit across the middle of the child's shoulder and chest.
  • The child's knees should bend at the edge of the seat without slouching.
  • The child should be able to sit with their back against the back of the vehicle seat, and they should be able to sit this way the entire ride.
    • If a child cannot ride this way, then they are probably too small for the seat belt and should use a booster seat.
  • Be sure all occupants wear safety belts correctly every time. Children learn from adult role models.
  • Make sure your child is in the right seat. Every car seat lists height and weight restrictions.
  • The rear seat is the safest place for children. If your vehicle doesn't have a back seat, make sure the airbag in front of the child's seat is deactivated.
  • The car seat should not move more than one inch from side to side, or front to back once in place. Using the force of a firm handshake, test the snugness of your seat's installation. If the seat moves more than one inch, tighten the belt(s).
  • The chest clip should be positioned at the level of the child's armpits. Double check to make sure it's not riding up near the child's neck or sliding down near the stomach. 
  • Always secure the harness buckles. Car seats won't protect a child who isn't fully buckled up. 
  • Model proper seat belt use. Children are more likely to wear seat belts when they see adults wear them.
  • Refrain from using and buying any used car seats. You should know the history of your car seat; any seat that has been in a car accident will need to be replaced.
  • Always check expiration date of your car seat. Most car seats have an expiration date that is 6 years after the manufacture date.
  • When you think of family car safety, you probably think about proper use of car seats, and the importance of keeping kids secure in the event of a crash. Be aware of the additional dangers children face playing in and around cars.
  • Teach children not to play in or around cars.
  • Always supervise children carefully when in and around vehicles.
  • Teach children to move away from a vehicle when a driver gets in it, or if the car is started.
  • Have children in the area stand to the side of the driveway or sidewalk so you can see them as you are backing out of a driveway or parking space.
  • Make sure to look behind you while backing up slowly in case a child dashes behind your vehicle unexpectedly.
  • Do not let your children play in an unattended vehicle. Teach them that a vehicle is not a play area.
  • Never leave infants or children in a parked vehicle, even if the windows are partially open.
  • Make a habit of looking in the vehicle - front and back - before locking the door and walking away.
  • If you see a child alone in a hot vehicle, call the police. If they are in distress due to heat, get them out as quickly as possible. Cool the child rapidly. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
  • In 2012, more than one in every five children between the ages of 5 and 15 who were killed in traffic crashes were pedestrians.
    • Whether walking to a friend's house, to school, or around town, children need to know how to navigate streets safely.
    • Begin to teach your child safe street habits and don't allow a child under age 10 to cross streets alone.
  • In addition to environmental risks, like speeding motorists, there are many hazards that can cause accidents and injuries. Help reduce your children's risk of harm by modeling and teaching safe pedestrian behavior.

Teach Safe Behaviors

  • Look left, right, and left again before crossing the street.
  • Cross when the street is clear and keep looking both ways while crossing.
  • Walk, don't run.
  • Understand and obey traffic signals and signs.
  • Walk facing traffic, on sidewalks or paths, so that you can see oncoming cars.
    • If there are no sidewalks, walk as far to the left as possible.

Practice Safe Behaviors

  • Don't allow a child under age 10 to cross streets alone, as he/she may not be able to fully appreciate the speed of cars on the road.
  • Require children to carry a flashlight at night, dawn, and dusk.
    • Add reflective materials to children's clothing so that a child can be seen by motorists, even in the dark.
  • Don't let kids play in driveways, unfenced yards, streets, or parking lots. Drivers may not see or anticipate children playing.
  • Teach children to always cross at pedestrian crossings and intersections, even when this means an extra walk.
  • Make sure your child takes the same route to common destinations (such as school) every time.
    • Walk with your child to find the safest path.
    • Look for the most direct route with the fewest street crossings.
  • Did you know that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for US teens?
  • In 2011, seven teens ages 16 to 19 died every day from motor vehicle injuries.
  • Texting while driving makes you four times more likely to crash.
    • Nearly 50% of teens admit to texting while driving.
  • Research and crash data tell us that teen drivers are less likely to buckle up and more like to speed or drive too fast.
    • Other risk factors include:
      • Driving late at night
      • Driving while impaired by alcohol
      • Driving with teenage passengers

For Teens

  • Teens buckle up far less frequently than adults do.
  • Compared with other age groups, teens have the lowest rate of seat belt use.
  • Despite efforts aimed at increasing belt use among teens, observed seat belt use among this population (16 to 24 years old) stood at 80% in 2008 -the lowest of any age group.
  • Take the pledge!
    • Wear your seat belt every time you ride in a motor vehicle
    • Limit your distractions (no texting or talking on the phone while driving)
    • Never drink and drive

For Parents

  • Parents should not expect their teen will learn everything they need to know from driver education classes.
  • Give clear instructions.
  • Talk about the rules/safety issues (driving is a privilege).
  • Insist on seat belts at all times in all seating positions.
  • No drinking alcohol.
  • Limit nighttime driving.
  • Limit the number of teen passengers in vehicle while they are driving.
  • Ban the use of electronic devices while driving.
  • Lead by example:
    • Parents have more influence over their teens' decisions than they think.
    • Teens imitate what they see - parents should practice safe driving habits as well.