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Friday, May 22, 2009

Tips for Safe Summer Driving: Traveling with Children

We all hold special memories of those summer vacation road trips. Some of those memories may be pleasant and some recall long hot days in the car with crying, argumentative kids.

Anyone who has children already knows what a distraction they can be. Children who are bored, hungry, or fighting with their siblings can turn a pleasant family outing into a highly stressful situation. A stressed driver is a distracted and unsafe driver.

A 2001 AAA Foundation study found that vehicle occupants (children, passengers) were responsible for 11% of distraction related crashes and a 2006 AAA Foundation study found that 80% of crashes involved driver distraction within 3 seconds of the event.

These tips may help to make this summer's vacation road trip a pleasant memory:

Ensure that children have toys, games, coloring books, and books to keep them occupied. A mesh bag for each child can be filled with age-appropriate travel activities to keep the child occupied. This travel kit should remain in the car at all times so that it is available any time you travel, even if it’s just to the local grocery store.

Some items to include in the travel kit are:
Coloring books (use colored pencils instead of crayons that can melt in a hot car)
Travel versions of popular games such as Battleship, Guess Who, etc. that the children can play with each other.
•Travel sized versions of Etch-A-Sketch for each child.
•Hand-held electronic games.
Personal radios or MP3 players filled with age-appropriate music and headphones for each child.
•Age-appropriate books.
Stuffed animals to act as traveling companions.

The back seat may become a bit messy but that is a small price to pay compared to a bored, screaming child. Try to avoid toys, such as puzzles, that have small parts that can get lost between seat cushions. If possible, keep the travel kit updated with new and interesting activities. You can find these travel items, in the toy department, at a very low cost, at most discount department stores.

Additional items that should be kept in the car’s glove compartment or trunk are:
Extra batteries for electronic devices (also keep small screwdrivers to remove the battery cover, if necessary)
Snacks such as crackers or chips that won’t spoil in the glove compartment.
•Small pillows for sleeping.
•Travel games for the whole family such as trivia or other guessing games.
•Books or travel games that generate family discussions about the children’s interests or what life was like for the parent as a child.

An excellent website full of games, tips, and accessories for traveling with children is This website also has great information on how to deal with car sickness.

If you can afford it, portable DVD players with favorite movies are a great way to keep the children occupied. Just remember that DVD screens are not allowed to be in view of the driver. If a DVD player is out of your budget, local libraries have audio books that the whole family can enjoy together.

On long trips, make rest stops every 100 miles or every two hours. If you stop at a rest stop, park at the far end of the parking lot to allow children to expend some of their pent-up energy walking to the facility and back. If there is a playground or a grassy area where the children can run and play, allow extra time for them to exercise. Rest stops often have displays, brochures, and maps that can keep the children occupied and help them learn about history and nature in the local area.

Children (up to 4' 9" tall) should always be properly secured in a child safety or booster seat with safety belts. Never allow the children to get out of their seat belts when the car is in motion. Information on the proper use of car seats can be found at the American Academy of Pediatrics website and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

If you need to discipline an unruly child, pull over, as far from the travel lane as possible, and stop the car. Trying to deal with unruly children (especially if you turn around to look at the child) while the car is in motion can be very dangerous.

Have a safe and memorable summer vacation!

For more information on driving safety, visit

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