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Right, apologies before I even start this opinion if I offend anyone in any way, it was just impossible to write this one without personal feelings creeping in now and again, you'll understand why at the end.
Also apologies for cheating somewhat as this opinion is about car safety as opposed to home safety, but as cars are just an extention of your home then I can just get away with it, can't I? If anyone knows of a better category for this then feel free to redirect me.
I have been looking after children in one capacity or another now since the age of 18, first as a student nurse, then having my own children and also as a childminder. It was all I ever wanted to do and all I ever will want to, children are my life and nothing upsets me more than seeing some people holding them in such low regard.
Not to say accidents don't happen, they do and sometimes they can't be avoided, but so many times with a little thought and extra vigilance they can. I have seen many seriously injured children, sometimes fatally, come into the hospital over the years, seen things on the news and had experiences with my own family, and it tears me apart to think they could have been avoided so easily.
So here is my guide to having a safe journey with your children, please read it carefully and if you find there is something in it that applies to you or that you can change for the better then great, I have done my job well.
So let's start with the obvious, car seats. Most people, thankfully, do buy a car seat for their child, but there are still a few who plonk the carrycot on the backseat without even restraining it or have baby on their lap in the back. WAKE UP, if you have an accident you will not be able to hold onto that child, she'll be out of your arms and through the windscreen in 2 seconds flat. What possible reason can you have for putting your child's life at risk like this? Whatever it is it won't wash with me. Go out and buy one, have it fitted properly and bloody well use it.
For those that do have car seats, are they fitted in the correct way? Did you know that 3 out of every 10 car seats are either incorrectly fitted or carrying a child of the wrong weight/height? If in doubt take your seat along to Mothercare World, they regularly have car seat checks that you can attend where someone will make sure it's right and if it isn't they'll show you exactly how to use it. They will also tell you if your child has outgrown the seat, which can be potentially dangerous too. You don't even have to have purchased your seat at Mothercare, all are welcome.
Don't ever borrow or buy a second hand car seat unless you know EXACTLY where it has been. If a car seat has previously been in an accident, however small, it weakens the structure rendering it pretty much useless if the worst should happen to you. I wouldn't recommend using a car seat for more than two children either, even if it hasn't been damaged, even normal use and just time itself has it's own wear and tear values.
If your child is older then you still may need a booster seat and/or a seatbelt guide. These are not props to make him able to see out of the windows, they are both needed to make sure the seatbelt is properly positioned around your child, if it is around his neck it could easily strangle him. Lap belts are also dangerous to young children, if you have an accident all the force of the impact is centred in one spot. Only use them if you have no other choice and make sure you put your biggest child in that seat. One young boy died from internal injuries caused by his lap belt.
Lastly, if you have a rear facing car seat in the front passenger side, or a child under the age of twelve and you have twin airbags, move him. There have been one or two cases where the airbags have actually suffocated children; they're safer in the back seats.
Right now you have the correct restraints in place you need a baby/child on board sticker. These are another misused item and contrary to popular belief they are not there to scare away the bloke who is right up your bum nor are they a way of advertising your child's birth to the world, they are there for our emergency services. It lets them know there is a baby or child that they need to be looking for in an accident, just in case the child is not visible in the wreckage or has been thrown clear.
Don't forget to take them out when your child is older or not travelling with you, or it will have the opposite effect of making them look for someone who is not even in the car, wasting their precious time.
Child door locks and window locks. USE them, I know it can be annoying having to let the kids out of the back all the time, especially when they are that bit older but if they are on all the time then you won't forget to 'reset' them for the younger kiddies.
Sunshades are another absolutely necessary item; the sun WILL burn your child through the window, or give them heat stroke which is very very dangerous in infants. Don't be penny pinchers, you can pick these up for about £3 a pair, and there is no excuse to not have them either.
Smokers?.Yoo-hoo, is anyone in there? Yes it's your brain I am talking to. For god's sake don't smoke in the car, not only are you filling your children's lungs with toxic fumes it's bloody dangerous. When you throw that ciggie out of the window, back in it comes and burns the baby, totally stupid and infinitely unforgivable. And before you all get on my back, I smoke ok, so if I can go without in the car then so can you.
Hand's up who is guilty of this one? Most of you I bet. Giving your child food in the car, packet of crisps to keep them quiet? Not a good idea unless they are within reach of another adult. If they choke whilst you are driving what are you going to do? I'll tell you what, you'll panic, your driving will be impaired as you hastily look for somewhere to stop, maybe causing an accident. Even if you do manage to stop, think of the time that has been wasted doing so, it doesn't take long for a child to suffocate.
My own son was 5 when he choked on a hula-hoop, he had a cold and as he went to cough it got wedged in the back of his throat. He was standing right in front of me when it happened and even though I took direct action his little lips went blue almost straight away, imagine if I had been driving and took a bit longer to get there. Best to just avoid the situation completely and disallow food in the car. If you are on a long journey and have to feed your children, pull over to do it in a rest stop, then everyone is safe and can enjoy their food.
OK, so I'll give them some toys to play with then? This all right, but do think about what you are giving them. Pencils and paper, a book? No, in an accident that pencil becomes a lethal weapon that could seriously injure him and the corner of the hardback book will take his eye out. Make it something soft or if they are older then visual games are better, eye spy, counting sheep/cars etc, which will also keep them from.....
Arguing, another dangerous pastime as if it gets loud and out of hand the driver is turning around, losing concentration rapidly, generally being distracted, exactly how accidents are caused. If you can't seat your squabblers separately then BRIBE them. Tell them it's 10p for every ten minutes they don't argue or 10p for every new car they spot out of the window. Most children are so money hungry that it works a charm!
And finally, this is the one that gets my goat the most, is the most dangerous of all and yet I bet each and every one of you have done it at one time or another.
DON'T EVER LEAVE YOUR CHILD UNATTENDED IN THE CAR, EVEN FOR A FEW SECONDS.
Did I say that loud enough? I do hope so; I have lost count of the tragedies caused by leaving kids alone in the car. There is no other reason for doing it but laziness, except perhaps extreme stupidity. Three things that could happen if you leave your child alone in the car....
Scenario one Little Jodie is fast asleep in her babyseat, mum needs to pop into the local shop to get her babymilk for tonight and is parked right outside so she leaves her snug in her seat. After all she can actually see her from the shop window, as she is paying for her milk mum hears a screech of brakes and a loud bang and turns around in horror, just in time to see a lorry plough into the side of her car. Little Jodie is still asleep but now it is eternal...
Scenario two Mum is hurrying to get her children to school one morning. She puts Billy, Matthew and Emma in their car seats and is just about to lock the house when the phone rings. She runs back inside to answer it leaving the kids in the car, after all they are in their seats. Emma decides to play a trick on mummy and gets out of her chair and the car, and hides. Mum comes back out just as she slips out of sight. Before the boys can say anything mum has jumped in the car and started it up....unfortunately dad has left the car in reverse gear, so it lurches back and smashes into the garage door. Mum gets out to survey the damage, not for one minute expecting too she her daughter's crushed and broken body lying behind the car....
Scenario three Dad is picking Lilly up from school today, he takes little Michael with him to give mum a break. He parks right out side the gates and decides to leave Michael in the car, he is only 10 feet away.. He leaves the window open slightly as it's a hot day and goes to chat with Samantha's dad, whilst he waits. He keeps one eye on Michael constantly but his gaze is averted as Lilly comes out calling 'Daddy'. In the two seconds he isn't looking, Michael climbs up to the window, he has seen Lilly too and wants to get out, he falls headfirst out of the window on to the concrete below. Michael was rushed to hospital and suffered irreversible brain damage as a result of the injury. He died a few days later....
Sound a little far fetched to you did they? Actually they are all true stories, stories I have come across either in the papers or when I trained as a nurse, all but little Emma, she was my cousin's daughter....