Portrait of kid being buckled in by his parent


Main Content

Car safety tips for tots to teens can save lives

Published on Thursday, June 1, 2023

By: Annie Oeth, aoeth@umc.edu

Summertime can be a risky season when it comes to children and cars. The dangers of car accidents and heatstroke can be avoided by making safe choices throughout the year, said Erinn Funches, safety and community outreach manager at Children’s of Mississippi.

“Driving is such a part of families’ daily lives,” Funches said, “so that makes children’s car safety an important part of their well-being. Summer vacations may have families on the road now, but these tips can keep children and teens safe all year.”

Preventing deadly heatstrokes, using car seats, booster seats and seat belts, and making sure teens don’t drive while distracted or impaired can go a long way toward keeping children and adolescents safe this summer and throughout the year.

Heatstroke prevention

On average, a child dies every 10 days from heatstroke inside a vehicle, and in more than half of those cases, the child was forgotten, according to figures from Safe Kids Worldwide.

“A baby’s body heats up about three to five times faster than the body of an adult,” Funches said. “A baby left in a car in temperatures as low as 57 degrees can become overheated. Parents should always take their babies out of the car every time they stop, even if it is just to run inside to pay for gas.”

Dangerous heatstrokes have occurred when parents or grandparents who may not be used to taking a child to daycare forget they had a child in the backseat. In 2022, 33 children in the U.S. died from heatstroke after being left in vehicles.

Portrait of Fernando Gomez

“These situations can be tragic,” said Dr. Fernando Gomez, chief of pediatric emergency medicine at Children’s of Mississippi. “If not caught early, these patients can often have severe neurologic impairment afterwards or even death.”

“Always look before you lock,” Funches said. “Putting your purse, phone or wallet in the backseat, or put a teddy bear in an empty car seat and moving it to the front seat when you have a child in the backseat can make checking your backseat a habit. That could save a life.”

Car seat safety

Car accidents are the leading preventable cause of death for children, but using car seats the right way can greatly reduce that risk.

"When a car seat is used correctly, it can reduce a child’s risk of death in a car accident by as much as 71 percent,” Funches said. "More than half of car seats are used incorrectly, but we are working to change that.”

A third of children killed in car crashes were not protected by car seats, booster seats or seat belts, Mississippi Department of Health statistics say.

Mississippi law requires children younger than 4 to ride in a car seat meeting federal motor vehicle safety standards and those between 4 and 7 to use a child restraint system such as a booster seat. State law requires children less than 4 feet, 9 inches in height and weighing less than 65 pounds to use booster seats. Children should ride in the back seat until age 13.

All drivers and front-seat passengers must wear seat belts in the state. A car seat violation in Mississippi comes with a $25 fine.

Funches recommends that parents use the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommend using a rear-facing car seat from birth to 2 years old, a forward-facing car seat from a minimum of 1 year old and 20 pounds and a booster seat for children between 40 and 80 pounds and up to 4 feet, 9 inches in height.

Checking car and car seat owner’s manuals for details about your child’s car seat and installation is essential.

Think twice before using a hand-me-down car seat, Funches said. “The plastic shell of a car seat can break down over time. If a car seat has been in an auto accident, it could have been cracked or damaged and should be replaced. Also, you won’t know whether an old car seat has been recalled.”

Parents who want to let a younger child use an older sibling’s seat should check the car seat for an expiration date.

Teen driving

During the summer months teens are having fun, going to the movies and going out with friends.

“Although these are all great things, we educate and encourage teens to practice safe driving behaviors and encourage everyone to do the same,” Funches said. “Safe driving saves lives.”

Mississippi leads the country in the rate of teen driver-related deadly crashes from 2011 to 2020, according to the American Automobile Association. “The number one reason for that is distracted driving,” Funches said.

“Talking with friends, texting or talking on the phone while driving, adjusting music, eating or putting on makeup while driving can lead to a car crash. It’s important for young drivers to keep their focus on the road and to drive defensively by being aware of their surroundings.”

Factors that also increase the risk of teens being in a fatal crash include a lack of experience behind the wheel, immaturity and lack of skills.

Impaired driving can be another danger for teens, a fact that Funches has shared in “prom promise” driver safety programs.

“Speaking up saves lives,” she said. “Teens should be reminded to not drink and drive, and that, if they see a dangerous situation, they need to let someone know. Calling for a ride home for themselves or a friend can prevent tragedy.”

The above article appears in CONSULT, UMMC’s monthly e-newsletter sharing news about cutting-edge clinical and health science education advances and innovative biomedical research at the Medical Center and giving you tips and suggestions on how you and the people you love can live a healthier life. Click here and enter your email address to receive CONSULT free of charge. You may cancel at any time.