For the majority of people, cars are a vital part of everyday life. They are found in nearly every home's driveway, parked on street corners or in parking lots. During the day and at night, the streets and highways are full of people travelling from one location to another in cars that carry not only themselves, but their children as well. Despite the convenience of vehicles, they present a special set of problems to the children who ride in them as well as children who walk or play anywhere near where they are parked or where they drive by. Sadly, every year vehicles are a source of fatalities for children. These fatalities occur both inside and outside of cars and are often preventable. Parents, guardians and anyone that drives with or near children can take steps to ensure their safety in and around cars.

Driving with young children is unlike driving with teens or adults as passengers. Anyone driving with a child should ensure that he or she is safe from any potential dangers. To do that they must first know how children should ride in cars and they must also recognize what parts of the vehicle represent a hazard for children. When riding in a car, it is important for children to be in the correct type of car seat or restraint system. First, all children up to and including the age of 12 should sit in the back seat of the car, regardless of what type of restraint system or seat is used. Most vehicles nowadays have front seat air bags which can hurt small children if inflated during a crash or sudden stop.

In Canada, there are 4 stages of child safety in vehicles. The four stages cover from the time they are newborns (and in need of a rear-facing seat) up until they are at least 36kg in weight (or 80 lbs) and tall enough to use a seat belt that is properly positioned over their lap and shoulder without need of a booster seat.

The following are the stages of child safety in vehicles according to Transport Canada:

  1. Stage 1: Rear-facing seats - Should be used from birth up and until the child weighs about 18 kg (40 lbs) or outgrows the seat's weight/height limits.
  2. Stage 2: Forward-facing seats - Can be introduced if the child is at least 10 kg (22 lbs) up until they weigh about 30 kg (65 lbs)
  3. Stage 3: Booster Seats - Can be used if the child is at least 18 kg (40 lbs) up until they outgrow the booster seat's weight/height limits.
  4. Stage 4: Seat belts - Can be used on their own only when a child can sit properly in the seat, without aid of a booster seat, and use a seat belt that is properly positioned over their lap and shoulder.

With each type of restraint system, it is important that they are installed properly in the vehicle to prevent them from moving or coming unfastened in the event of an accident.

In addition to having children properly restrained, it is also important to be aware of the dangers of certain aspects of the vehicle. Power car windows can hurt children, who may get their fingers or hands stuck in them. In some cases children may even get their heads stuck and strangle as a result of powered windows. Seat belt entanglement is another hazard that children face and can be a strangulation threat to children who are playing with seat belts or for children who have not been properly restrained. Leaving children alone in a car is another danger that can quickly lead to death. During the summer months, the inside of a car can quickly become as hot as an oven. Temperatures inside of a sitting car can rise dramatically and can quickly reach temperatures of 45 degrees Celsius or higher, even on moderately cool days. Another danger of leaving children unattended in a car is the risk of them making their way into the trunk of the vehicle and getting trapped. Temperatures in the trunk of the car also can result in heat stroke, or a child may suffocate if not discovered in time.

  • Filling out the product registration card for car seats will ensure that parent's receive notification of recalls.
  • When choosing a car seat, select one that exceeds Transport Canada's Safety Regulations and Standards that Apply to Child Car Seats and Booster Cushions.
  • Keep rear fold-down seats closed when not in use to prevent children from climbing in the trunk.
  • Many vehicles have a window lock feature. Use this feature whenever children are in the car to prevent them from playing with power windows.
  • Always check that children do not have their hands or any other body part outside of the window before raising them.
  • Cars can become overheated even with the windows open.
  • Keep a visual reminder that there is a child in the car seat to avoid accidentally leaving a quiet or sleeping child in the car. A visual reminder can be a stuffed animal or a diaper bag kept in the front seat whenever there is a child in the car.
  • When seat belts are not in use, buckle them to prevent children from playing with them.

Even outside of the car, parents and other adults must take care to ensure the safety of children. Not only must adults be concerned about children getting hit by moving cars on the street, but they must also be aware that when children are outside of the car there is the danger of rollaways and backovers. A backover occurs when a child is standing, sitting, or playing behind a car that is backing up. This typically occurs with smaller children that are difficult to see in a rear view mirror or when looking out of the back window of a car. A rollaway occurs as a result of several things. Sometimes the car keys are left in the ignition and the parking brake has not been set. The car can then be shifted from the park position if the car is in accessory mode or if a child is playing near the steering wheel and the gear selector. When this happens the car can begin to roll and may accidentally hit nearby small children, or the child playing in the car may fall out and be struck by the vehicle. Both of these dangerous situations can be avoided when responsible adults are observant of their children and their own actions.

  • Before backing up out of a driveway or garage, adults should take a walk around their vehicle to ensure that no children are behind it or playing nearby.
  • Certain cars are equipped with backup cameras to help drivers see what is behind them. Other cars may have sounds that warn that the vehicle is backing up. These devices can help drivers determine if there are children behind them or alert children that the vehicle is backing up.
  • Backup alarms and cameras are not always foolproof and drivers should not rely only on them when backing up.
  • Children between the ages of 12 and 23 months are the most common victims of backing up accidents.
  • Teach children not to play around or in cars to avoid either a rollaway or a backover accident. They should also be taught that cars can move at any time and that the driver may not always be able to see them.
  • Cars manufactured after September 2010 are built with a Brake Transmission Safety Interlock, or BTSI. This is designed to prevent cars from being put into gear by accident.
  • Never leave keys in the ignition or allow children to play in cars unattended.

Check out some great resources on keeping kids safe in and around the car:

  • Safety Tips When Backing Up (PDF): Precautionary tips to prevent children from becoming victims of backing up accidents. This is a PDF document from the website.
  • Car Seat Safety: An informational page on the KidsHealth website that discusses car seat safety. The page includes how to select a car seat, how to install it, and other important facts that parents should know.
  • Keep Your Kids Safe in the Car: Advice on how parents can keep their kids safe while in the car. The advice centers around car seats.
  • Motor Vehicle Safety for Children: A page from the University of Rochester Medical Center that discusses behaviors that are high risk in terms of children riding in cars. The page goes on to discuss how to ensure children's safety inside of the car.
  • Keeping Children Safe In and Around Cars: An Einstein Healthcare Network web page that gives advice on how to keep children safe in and around cars.
  • Protecting Your Children In and Around Vehicles (PDF): A PDF newsletter that gives advice to parents on steps that they can take to ensure the safety of their children while they are inside of the car and outside of it.
  • Vehicle Rollaway: Explains what vehicle rollaway means and gives advice on how parents can prevent this from happening.
  • Preventing Backovers in America's Driveways (PDF): A PDF document that discusses driveway backovers and gives tips on how they can be prevented.
  • Dangers of Power Windows in Cars - Audio: An audio by Healthy that explains the dangers of power windows to children.