Being a new parent is scary enough. Add driving to the mix and you have yourself an anxiety attack cocktail!
There are so many ways to stay safe and protect your child at all times while driving in a vehicle.
Here are some tips to help you drive more safely and worry less about the safety of your little one.
Use the Right Car Seat
Children should be in a rear-facing car seat until at least the age of 1. In some states, it’s legally required until the age of 2, and some experts recommend keeping your child in a rear-facing seat even longer.
A rear-facing seat supports your baby’s head and neck in the event of a crash and can reduce fatalities by as much as 71%. Your first car seat should be rear facing only with a carrier handle.
Your car seat should meet NHTSA standards and be installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Make sure the car seat works with your car; sometimes they don’t fit together. And, of course, your baby should be properly strapped in. Once your baby outgrows the infant car seat, get a convertible car seat, but keep them rear facing.
Get the infant car seat before the baby arrives. You may need it to get home from the hospital. Infants MUST be in the back seat. Finally, register your car seat so you will be notified if there is a recall. Also, the first time you install your car seat, have it checked. Your local fire department may do this for free.
We know car seats can be expensive, but don’t buy a second-hand car seat. You don’t know if it’s already been in a wreck or if it has faulty parts. A new seat out of the box is ideal for your baby’s utmost safety.
Buckle Up Toys
It’s hard to keep your baby occupied in the car. Toys are an easy fix for that, but if you give your baby toys, be sure to secure them to the car seat. They will be dropped, your child will cry, and you will end up having to pull over. This also keeps toys from turning into flying objects if you have to hit the brakes. Newborns are best with no toys at all, they will most likely just sleep, and if they don’t that is okay, too.
If you are using a pacifier, tether that to the car seat or buy a pacifier clip that attaches to your baby’s clothing. A pacifier can often be a good option to keep your baby quiet in the car.
Turn Off Your Phone
It’s never a good idea to talk and drive, and it’s even worse to text and drive. Turn your phone off all together, rather than using hands-free or screen-based systems. We know they are made to make things easier, but its still a distraction from the road and your baby.
Where’s the best place to put your phone? The back seat next to your baby. This may seem odd, but new parents forget their child is there all the time, because it’s not part of the routine yet, and this is how babies get left in cars. It is scary to think about, but it happens all the time. It might seem callous that you’re more likely to remember your phone, but you have had the phone longer than the baby.
Feed and Change First
When your baby starts fussing, your automatic response is to look at the baby. This is when bad things happen. Anytime your eyes are off the road, you are putting your baby in danger.
Reduce the risk that your baby will start fussing by feeding and changing just before you head out. If possible, time your trip for when she/he is already tired. If they are asleep, even better. Never try to feed your baby while driving or even while somebody else is driving unless there’s no alternative. Pull over first. Make sure you are no longer in motion.
Be a Defensive Driver
If you don’t have defensive driving skills, now is the time to learn them. Defensive driving means that you are always prepared to react to other drivers. It means always being ready for the unexpected, controlling your speed, and staying alert. A defensive driving course is something every driver should consider as an investment in saving lives and time.
Use a Sun Shade
Invest in a sunshade installation for the side window closest to your baby. Nobody likes the sun right in their eyes, and that includes a young baby. Bright sun can wake up your baby and cause them to start fussing or crying. This will also help your child stay at the right temperature during your drive.
Know When to Drive
As any new parent knows: sleep is a rare thing with a newborn. Drowsy driving was responsible for at least 800 deaths a year, and that number is a lowball. The risk to new parents is high. As parents, we are sometimes overworked and have little to no sleep. The risk of nodding off while driving is high.
If you are trading off who gets up to deal with the baby, then have the other parent do the driving the next day. And understand that if you are not safe to drive, you might have to put off the trip, whether you have your child in the car or not. Try to keep a regular sleep schedule, avoid alcohol even if you are not nursing, and be ready to pull over if you have warning signs such as yawning, missing your exit, or drifting from your lane.
Get a Back Seat Mirror
Install a small mirror in the back seat so you can see your child with a quick glance in the rearview mirror. You should not be staring at your baby while driving, but just being able to take a quick peek at them to make sure they are okay is a good thing! Being able to see the infant will help keep you from being stressed out and the mirror will keep you from turning around to check on them and taking your eyes off the road for longer than a few seconds.
Take a Buddy
Try avoiding driving alone with your baby as much as possible. Especially on longer trips, it’s important to be able to trade-off driving, and have the parent or friend who is not driving sit in the back with the baby. That way they can take care of your kid while you focus on driving or vice versa. This may not always be possible, but if it is, it will help keep you much more relaxed and your baby much quieter.
Remember, when driving with your child in the car, it is so important to follow these safety precautions. It is stressful enough raising a child. Take some worry off of your shoulders and be prepared for anything!