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Riding Rules for Tots and Teens


By Jayne O'Donnell

Beyond the basics--children shouldn't sit in front of an air bag, infants need to be in rear-facing child seats--take note of these tips regarding kids and cars that you probably haven't heard.

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Car seats and coats don't always mix.
Before you buckle your baby in a child safety seat during the cold winter months, take off bulky snowsuits and coats. The child seat harnesses won't work as effectively if there's all that cushioning between the baby and the belts. Instead, use blankets to keep your baby warm. (By the way, the same goes for grownups and their winter wraps.)

Some rearview mirrors can be dangerous.
Watch out for mirrors sold to help you keep an eye on your rear-facing infant. Many suction onto the back window or otherwise attach to the back of the car. In a crash-or even if you just stop short-the mirror can go flying and hit your baby or other occupants in the head.

An unlocked auto is a hazard waiting to happen.
Always keep your car locked, even if you live in the safest of neighborhoods. During 2000, at least 32 deaths were attributed to kids being left unattended in or around cars. And that's not just from joyriders-this includes young children who became locked in trunks. It happens because in many vehicle models, children may be able to pop the trunk (from inside or outside) when the car's unlocked, or access the trunk via a pass-through in the backseat.

Not all safety belts save lives.
Beware of safety-belt adjusters, sold in stores, that are designed to make adult safety belts fit kids. These devices are not tested or regulated by the federal government and may, in fact, decrease the effectiveness of a vehicle's safety belts-especially for very young children. General Motors does offer a built-in belt adjuster that the company tests with its belts, and the government says it's okay. Otherwise, if your car's safety belts don't fit a child under 80 pounds, buy a booster seat.

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There are rare instances when young kids are safest sitting up front.
While children younger than 13 are generally safest sitting in the back seat of a vehicle, here is an exception: If you drive an older model car that doesn't have a front passenger-side air bag, does have a three-point safety belt in the front passenger seat, and only has lap belts in back. In this case, a child who can no longer fit in a front-facing child safety seat but doesn't yet fit the vehicle's safety belts properly on his own is best off sitting up front in a booster seat, using the vehicle's lap-shoulder belt.

When riding shotgun, it's best to be empty-handed.
Never allow a passenger sitting in the front seat of your car to hold toys, games, or anything else that would come between him and a deploying air bag. At least one child has been seriously injured when the bag hit a toy in front of his face.

© Jayne O'Donnell
ClubMom's AutoPro, Jayne O'Donnell, is a Washington, D.C.-based reporter (and new mom!) whose automotive expertise and investigative reporting skills have helped break some of the biggest auto-safety stories of the past several years.

Copyright ClubMom, Inc. All rights reserved.

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