Baby Proofing – What Not to Leave Home Without

Remember your car before you had kids? The sparkling windows that offered views unobscured by smudgy little fingerprints… the carpet that wasn’t adorned with mushed banana and ground-in crackers… the fresh, new-car aroma that wafted out to greet you when opened the door, rather than that mysterious funk that just doesn’t seem to go away, despite multiple air fresheners…

It’s hard to keep your car pristine when you’re a parent, especially when your kids are very young. But while bit of mess is inevitable, one thing you can control is safety. Just as you baby proof you home, you can baby proof your car to keep your kids safe while you’re on the go. Here’s what every parent needs to know about baby proofing the car.

Child Safety Seats
When transporting your child in the car, never leave home without a safety seat. Choose the appropriate seat based on factors such as your child’s age, weight, size and car type. To find the right car seat for your child, use the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s car seat guide.

Choose a rear-facing car seat for infants and young children. Often portable, this type of seat offers a harness, tether and extra protection for your child’s neck and spine. When your child meets size requirements, you can choose a forward-facing seat. Larger children can use a booster seat, which offers greater freedom of movement while positioning seat belts correctly across your child’s body.

Before using any car seat, test it to make sure it fits correctly in your vehicle. Fire departments often offer free car seat clinics to help you learn to install a seat correctly; check with your local firehouse to see if this service is available.

Window Locks
Imagine you’re cruising down the freeway at 65 mph, bopping along to Baby Shark. Suddenly, down goes the rear window goes down, filling the car with rushing wind and roaring freeway noise. Your little one has discovered the power window buttons. Yay, what a fun new toy!

Now you’re distracted, trying to ensure that no toys go out — or, more importantly, that no little fingers or ponytails are caught in the window — as you roll it back up.

Avoid this type of distraction altogether by engaging your window locks. Most cars with power windows offer a button near the driver’s window controls that allows you to lock some or all of the windows. That means no more loud distractions and no chance of getting hair, clothing or fingers caught when you roll back up.

Rear Door Child Safety Locks
While windows opening at high speeds is certainly annoying, doors opening at any speed can be downright dangerous. If your child can reach door handles from their seat, you must take steps to ensure they can’t open doors. While some cars offer an auto-lock feature, don’t take any chances: Use rear door child locks to prevent even the chance of an opening door.

Rear door child safety locks prevent car doors from being opened from the inside. In most cars, you’ll find a switch on the inside of each back door. Simply engage the switch, and the door can only be opened from the outside. Check your car’s manual for specifics.

Belt Cutting Tool
While no one wants to imagine the worst, accidents do happen and it’s best to be prepared. If a seatbelt gets stuck or twisted, a seat belt cutting tool will allow you to cut through the strap. The tool is small enough to fit in your glove box or emergency kit. Many also come with a glass breaking hammer attached, so you can break through a window if necessary in an emergency situation.

Sun Protection
Soft baby skin requires extra protection from the sun. In fact, it’s recommended that babies under six months avoid exposure to direct sunlight altogether, as their skin is especially vulnerable to sun damage. While car windows do screen most harmful UV light, some rays still get in. Covering your car’s rear windows with sun-blocking screens will help protect your baby’s skin. It’s also good practice to keep an extra sun hat and a bottle of kid-approved sunscreen in the car, just in case.

Consider eye protection, as well. If the sun is shining directly into the car from the front, small babies can’t move to protect their eyes. Avoid this problem by installing a clip-on sun visor over your rear-view mirror. This will help block at least some direct light.

These simple baby proofing steps make car rides safer for your little one. While you may just have to accept that your car’s interior won’t be as pristine as it once was, you can rest easy knowing that you’ve taken steps to make it safe.