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Screaming Down The Road IV

By Scott Hamilton, MD
June 9, 2022
Hamilton Blog Headshot Updated 12.21.21

For Screaming Down The Road Part III, the pandemic lockdown was on. People still vacationed that summer of 2020, mainly driving to remote spots. I highlighted one cousin's solution to avoiding crowds at rest stops: installing a toilet seat on a pickle bucket full of kitty litter- DIY commode for his school-age daughters! He sent me pictures, being pretty darn proud, and his family's New Mexico trip was on!

Now with the pandemic over (sort of), people are really heading out. Roads are clogged with vacationers eager to breathe free. Highways are also full of trucks working to meet demands for goods. More trucks and cars competing for space means more accidents. Since 2020 there have been more car crashes, indicating that drivers may be inflicting their pandemic stress on fellow motorists. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that in 2020, though fewer cars were on the road during lockdown, traffic deaths were up. This alarming trend continued through 2021. 

Why the highway mayhem? NHTSA further reports there’s been more speeding, impaired driving (drugs and alcohol) and driving unbelted. Thus, the need to protect your kids from yahoos behind the wheel. The place to start is with car seats for infants and children – this includes booster seats for kids up to age 12. If belts ride up on a child’s abdomen instead of laying across their hips, it’s an indication they need a booster. No matter how much they whine, they are never too old for one.

Children should always ride in the backseat. Since most bad crashes are head-on collisions, that’s where they're most protected. The problem with backseats: kids can take their belts off without you seeing. I've seen lots of unbelted kids injured or killed and their parent’s cry: he takes it off himself! You need to be the seatbelt police, too.

Kids have always loved making fun of dads. Now it's a social media thing: dad bods, dad moves and dad jokes. Full disclosure: I’ve made plenty of dad moves, most embarrassingly pulling the car out before my daughter’s fully inside, much less door closed and seatbelt on. Cars have alarms for that, but I’ve got my wife and kids to shriek at me, too.

As we mentioned above, car crashes are up since the pandemic. Besides the usual dad moves on the road, there's more drunk driving and speeding, so you need to protect your kids even more in the car. We discussed younger kids being in car seats and boosters, children of all ages riding in backseats and enforcing seatbelt use. But there's more besides making sure those in the backseat aren't removing their belts.

Kids often don't buckle up in seemingly innocuous situations. Common laments: “we were just going down the street,” "just pulling out onto the road,” or “still in the parking lot.” Most car accidents happen close to home, so kids are safe unbelted only when the car is parked. If the tires move, everyone should be strapped in. Even low speed crashes can be deadly. A 20 mile-per-hour impact is roughly the same force as falling off a 20-foot ladder. Would you drop your kid from that high?

Also, drive defensively to avoid weaving drunks and texters. Watch for cars drifting into your lane, beside you or head-on, and guard against red light runners. Build a defensive “bubble” on the highway by leaving space behind and in front of your vehicle to increase your reaction time to possible collisions. Don't speed: slower driving also means more time to avoid crashes and less impact energy if they happen. Slower also means better gas mileage, cutting gas costs as your vacation screams down the road.