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Whether you're out on the school run or taking the car on your family holiday, as a parent you'll want to do everything you can to ensure you and your family arrive safely. The Child Accident Prevention Trust (CAPT) report that 12 children under 10 are killed or injured as passengers in cars every day so it's vital that you do as much as you can to keep your children safe in the car. 

To help keep your family safe while you’re out and about on the road, Nationwide Vehicle Contracts has put together some top tips for keeping your young ones safe in the car.
children in the back of a car

Car Seats

Follow the law

Car safety starts with correctly fitting child restraints and a car seat is crucial for keeping your baby safe on car journeys. UK law requires that all children travelling in cars use the correct child restraints until they reach 12 years old or 135cm (4 foot 5 inches) in height, whichever comes first. Only EU-approved weight-based child car seats can also be used in the UK so it is important that you look out for the capital E in a circle and ‘ECE R44’ when buying your baby car seat.

Ensure the seat is fitted correctly

When it comes to fitting a car seat, every model is different. Not all car seats will fit all cars so choosing the best one for the weight and height of your child is really important. Research shows that two thirds of car seats are fitted incorrectly, with one in ten being dangerously installed so it is vital that you ensure your child car seat is properly installed. Follow the manufacturer's directions and make sure you check the installation regularly.

Remove any coats or blankets

When placing your child into the seat, make sure you remove any coats or blankets that may increase the distance between your child's body and the harness straps. If you need to use a blanket, lay it across your child after he or she is strapped in, never put it between the child and the harness straps or underneath or behind the child.

Never remove your child from the seat while the car is moving

It is also important to never remove your child from the seat - not even for a minute - while the car is moving. While it may be tough listening to your baby cry, their safety depends on being properly restrained at the moment of a crash. If you must take your baby out of their car seat to comfort or feed, find a safe place to pull over. 

You can find out more about child seat law, the different types of car seats available and how to fit a child’s car seat in our Car Seats guide.

Seat Belts

Buckle up or pay up

In the UK, it is illegal to drive or travel in a car without a properly fastened seatbelt. As the driver of a car, you are legally responsible for making sure that any passenger under 14 years old is using an appropriate child restraint or an adult seatbelt. The police can impose a £30 fixed penalty to drivers spotted breaking the law and the maximum fine is £500 if it goes to court. 

You can set a good example for children by always wearing your own seatbelt and only start driving when all seat belts are done up.

Fit the belt correctly

Seat belts are designed for use by one person and must never be put around a child and an adult. Buckling two people into one seat belt - even two children - could injure both of them in a crash. You should also never carry a child in your lap in a car or allow a child to ride unrestrained. A child who isn’t buckled up could hurt himself or someone else.

You can find out more about seat belts including UK legislation, exceptions to seatbelt use and the penalties for not using a seatbelt in our Seat Belt Guide.

Car Windows and Doors

Activate the child safety locks

Activate the child safety locks on your car doors to prevent children from opening the doors while the car is moving or standing still. These locks are usually found on the inside of the car doors and are operated by flicking a switch. If you are unsure where the child safety lock feature is on your vehicle, check your car’s manual.

Lock the power windows

It is also important to ensure you lock the power windows to prevent your children from getting injured or trapped. Most modern vehicles now come with electric windows (also known as automatic or power windows) which can be extremely dangerous for young children. Since 1990 over 50 children have been killed by power windows, most of them aged three or younger. Occasionally, children can unintentionally trigger a power window, trapping hands, fingers, arms or even their head. At the push of a button, the driver can make the car much safer for children by having complete control over power windows.

Never leave a child unattended

Never leave children unattended in a car, even for a minute. Even if you’re only planning on stepping out of the car for a few minutes, a variety of dangers and hazards might arise. A child can wriggle out of a seat, hit the controls and cause the car to move. There is also the possibility of fire or of the vehicle being involved in an accident. 

On a hot day, the temperature inside a car can also get to dangerously high levels and cause serious harm or even death to your child. Children are particularly susceptible to overheating and dehydration, and inside a hot car, a toddler’s body temperature can rise three to five times as quickly as that of an adult, which can lead directly to heatstroke and death. Make sure you check the back seat every time you park your car and keep doors locked so children can't climb into cars to play.

Extra Tips for Child Car Safety

Check out these extra safety tips to keep your children safe and entertained when travelling in the car:

  • Store your car keys safely to reduce the risk of your child getting hold of them and starting the car.
  • Ensure your child always keeps their arms, legs and head inside the car when it’s moving or parked on the side of the road.
  • Keep loose items in the glove box or the boot. Loose items can fly about in a crash and increase the risk of injury.
  • Monitor your kids throughout the course of your drive to help prevent injuries or accidents. Make sure they are seated and safely buckled up at all times.
  • If travelling long distances, provide plenty of safe distractions for your child, like music or audio books to listen to or soft hand-held games or books to play with.
  • Praise your child for good car behaviour, such as keeping his/her seat belt on and leaving the car locks and windows alone.
  • Teach your child not to distract the driver by shouting or kicking the driver’s seat. If you are distracted or your child is upset or sick, pull over into a safe place and address the problem.
  • Chat while you drive to pass the time and distract your child. Discuss what you’ll be doing when you arrive, point out sights through the window, have a singalong or recite some nursery rhymes.
  • Make sure you have plenty of fresh drinking water to keep your family hydrated as well as snacks such as nuts, dried fruit and energy bars in case of an emergency.
  • Ensure you have a blanket inside the car for each of your children to wrap them up if they get cold, plus gloves, hats and boots in case you do need to leave your car in the event of a breakdown.
  • Get into the habit of getting your child in and out of the car on the kerbside, away from traffic.

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