It hits you the moment you strap your baby into the car seat to drive home from the hospital: You created a new life and now it’s up to you to keep that life safe. In addition to baby-proofing your home, you need to think about how your vehicle and driving affects your child’s safety.

Here’s what you need to know about keeping your little one safe on the road.

Car Seats

Rear-facing child safety seats protect babies from serious injury in frontal crashes, which are the most common type of car crash. Babies should use a rear-facing seat until the age of 2 at minimum. If your child is within the car seat’s height and weight limit past the age of two, continue using a rear-facing seat as long as it fits your child. Child-safety seats should always be used in the back seat of the car, never the front seat.

Car seat harnesses should fit snugly, with flat-lying shoulder straps placed at or below your baby’s shoulders and the top of the chest clip at armpit level, according to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Never dress your child in blankets or bulky clothing while in a car seat.

Car Maintenance

A properly maintained car is a safe car. Neglecting routine maintenance on your vehicle could lead to an accident or cause you to break down with your child in tow. In addition to regular fluid changes and tune-ups, parents should prioritize maintaining these areas that are essential for safe driving:

  • Lights: Lights not only illuminate the road after dark, they also ensure other drivers see your vehicle and know when you’re turning or stopping. Keep headlights, taillights, and turn signals functional and clean for proper functioning.
  • Brakes: Your car’s brakes are its most important safety system. Worn brakes can prevent you from stopping in time to avoid accidents. For most drivers, a squealing or clicking sound when pressing the brakes is the first sign that the brakes need attention. However, vibrations in the brake pedal and longer stopping distances also signal brake issues. Replacing brake pads is a relatively simple car maintenance task. If you do it yourself, choose high-quality brake pads for maximum braking power and a longer lifespan. Brake pads are only one piece of a working braking system, so include regular brake inspections in your car’s maintenance schedule.
  • Tires: Excessively or unevenly worn tires make it more difficult to brake and control your vehicle, especially in poor weather. Maintain proper tire pressure at all times and replace tires when tread depth drops below 4/32 of an inch (Learn how to easily test tread depth here). Tires should also be rotated and balanced and alignment checked twice per year.

If your car has safety issues that can’t be solved through routine maintenance and repairs, consider replacing your family car. Autotrader explains what to look for when shopping for a family vehicle.

Safe Driving

It’s natural to want to check on your baby riding in the backseat, but allowing yourself to be distracted from the road puts you and your child’s safety at risk. Never drive while tired, don’t use your phone while behind the wheel, and if your child needs attention, pull over.

In addition to driving safely, new parents should be aware of the very real risk of leaving their child in a hot car. While it’s hard to imagine ever forgetting your child, habit, distraction, and fatigue can lead to a fatal mistake for even the most conscientious of parents. Never leave your child in the car for any amount of time even if the weather is mild. According to CNN, heatstroke can affect children at temperatures as low as 57 degrees. Parents should use a fail safe to avoid forgetting their child in the car such as placing a purse or cellphone in the backseat, using a reminder app or installing a car seat alarm.

When you’re a parent behind the wheel, nothing is more important than protecting your precious cargo. However, car safety for kids isn’t as simple as strapping on a seat belt and driving cautiously. By following these guidelines, you can protect against accidents, breakdowns, and other mishaps that threaten your child’s safety.

Written by
Mark Conner with Drive Safely