Today’s Malaysian families are more mobile than before, thanks to affordable cars and a good network of roads and highways criss-crossing the country. For those with small children, the journeys this end-of-year holiday season may be the first time that the little ones are travelling long distances where they will be sitting in the car for longer periods than they’re used to. This may be their first visit to see Grandma and Grandpa in the hometowns their parents grew up in and it would be nice if they arrive in a cheerful mood.
But as many parents with small children know too well, kids hate being stuck in the back seat for long periods. It’s understandable: after an hour in the car, even the adults in the car can feel restless. Fortunately, there are now portable tablets which can keep the bigger kids occupied and even audio-visual systems that can show movies. But active children can still distract which can lead to accidents.
The thing to remember is that, in most cases, a crying child does not mean he or she is in pain. They are more likely to be bored, hungry or just want to get outside and play. Some of these can be resolved at R&R lay-bys where there are food stalls and some even have playgrounds. Along the highways, there are also convenience stores like the Petromarts at BHPetrol stations where drinks and snacks can be purchased.
Here are some other tips that can help make the journey with small kids less stressful:
- Set a good example. Safety consciousness stems from a child’s care-givers. It’s essential that the parents be good role models themselves. Despite all the technological advances, seatbelts are still a top life-saving device in an accident so parents should always buckle up to set a good example for the kids.
- Establish the rules – Inside the car. Parents should establish rules in the car, and make sure they are followed by all. For kids old enough to understand, parents should declare the family car commandment of: ask permission first, whether it’s to open a window or even to change the music. And certainly, the driver must give the okay before a door can be opened, even if the car is stopped and parked.
- Establish the rules – Outside the car. Even when outside the car, children can be at risk of an auto-related injury, so never let them out of your sight anywhere that other cars are present. “A child’s small size makes them easier to miss when parking and backing up,” cautions Cynthia Zhang, Vehicle Regulations Manager for Ford Motor Company in China. Make sure all children hold a parent’s hand when vehicles may be present, whether it’s on a road or even when cars are parked.
- Keep children comfortable and occupied. Make sure to have your child’s favourite toys (soft ones are better) and books or games. Snacks and drinks will also help your child be less demanding. And don’t forget to schedule stops for bathroom breaks. Also, one reason a child may be fussing is because they could be too cold or too hot so keep track of what the climate is like in the back seat. Don’t assume that while you feel comfortable up front, it’s the same behind.
“Above all, never leave children unattended in your vehicle. Exposure to high temperatures for even a short time can cause death or serious heat-related injuries, including brain damage,” warns Ms Zhang. “Small children are particularly at risk.”
- Childseats are a must. “Seatbelts and airbags are designed for passengers taller than 145 cm and heavier than 36 kgs,” says Ms Zhang, “so newborns and young children should be properly secured in a rear seating position with a child safety seat that is designed for their age and weight.” Some parents are tempted to hold their child in the front seat with them but this is very dangerous. In case of sudden braking, the force of acceleration can be as great as 4g (which means the parent’s and child’s weight is increased by 4 times). It’s even more dangerous should the airbag deploy if the car is involved in a frontal collision.
- Pay attention to how your child’s carseat is installed. Getting the right childseat is only half the story; installing them correctly is crucial for the child seat to actually function. According to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there is a 95% error rate in installing child safety seats.
- Airbags can kill or injure a child in a childseat, so never place a rear-facing childseat in front of an active airbag. Childseats are often secured with standard seatbelts, but for added protection, get a child seat that installs with ISOFIX attachment points. Unlike other child safety systems that can be difficult to install properly, an ISOFIX seat plugs into dedicated latch points in the vehicle.
Even when you follow all the guidelines above, children may still grumble and wriggle in the backseat. But they are kids, and that’s their job. So you do your job in making them settled and comfortable. The next time your child starts to fuss, stay calm and find a safe place to pull over. And always be a careful driver when it comes to having children in the car: expect the unexpected!