Keeping kids safe is a high priority for any parent, and there are a lot of new vehicle safety features available that will help you protect your loved ones when they’re in the vehicle. However, with so many features on the market, it’s hard to know which ones are worth springing for.
LATCH Connectors and Child Safety Seats
The federal government requires that all vehicles with a second row have Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH), which make it easier to secure child safety seats. Both car seats and booster seats are required by law and help ensure that your child is strapped in safely.
There are several types of child safety seats available, which are designed for newborns to children who are about 12 years old: rear-facing car seats; convertible car seats, which can face the front or back of the car; and forward-facing car seats. You can even purchase an all-in-one (also known as 3-in-1) car seat, which can be used as a rear- or forward-facing car seat and a booster seat. Children who outgrow a forward-facing car seat graduate to a booster seat, which positions the child so that the seat belt fits and protects him or her properly. These seats can come in high-back, backless and all-in-one versions.
To decide which seat is best for your child, you’ll have to consider a number of factors, such as the child’s age, weight and height. For example, the federal government says children who are 1 year old and younger should use a rear-facing car seat and should stay in a rear-facing car seat until he or she exceeds the weight and height limit set by the car seat manufacturer. Then, your child can use a forward-facing seat with a harness. Generally, a child will stay in a forward-facing seat until he or she is seven years old or is too big for the seat. At that point, he or she will graduate to a booster seat, and should still sit in the back seat. A booster seat helps line your child’s body up with the seat belt, which allows the seat belt to properly protect the child in an accident. The seat belt should stretch across the shoulder and chest and across the upper thighs.
In the United States, every state except Florida and South Dakota requires that children who are too big for a child seat, but are too small for a seat belt to fit appropriately must use a booster seat. Even if a booster seat isn’t required in your state, the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it is important to keep kids in booster seats until they exceed the height and weight limits that the child seat manufacturer sets. If your child outgrows his or her booster seat, the federal government says you shouldn’t allow your child to sit in the front row until he or she is 12 years old.
Some crossover SUVs have built-in booster seats in the second row. The Volvo XC60 is a family-friendly crossover with optional integrated booster seats. The Dodge Journey costs almost $15,000 less than the XC60, and has two optional integrated booster seats for the second row.
According to Safe Kids USA, 29 children in the United States died of hyperthermia from January to October of 2012. A conversation mirror, which is mounted to the ceiling of the car near the windshield, gives you a quick way to check if your child is in the car when you reach home or work. These mirrors can also help reduce the risk of a crash because you can keep an eye on your kids without turning around and taking your eyes off the road for too long. Unlike the rearview mirror, a conversation mirror gives you a view of what’s going on in the second and third rows. The Honda Odyssey minivan has a conversation mirror standard on higher trim levels as part of the ceiling-mounted sunglass holder. The mirror is also optional on the Toyota Sienna and standard on the Honda CR-V.
Features that Help You Avoid an Accident
The federal government mandates that all new cars come with certain safety features. However, if you’re shopping used vehicles, they may not have the safety features that are available on new cars, so it’s important to ensure that the car you want is well-equipped. One important safety feature is electronic stability control (ESC), which helps drivers avoid accidents by preventing skids. ESC is mandatory on all 2012 model year cars and newer. Anti-lock brakes are another great feature that can help you avoid an accident. ABS helps keep your wheels from locking up and helps you avoid a skid.
Tire pressure monitoring systems are another good safety feature. This system continually monitors the pressure in the car’s tires, and when the pressure falls below the minimum level, a warning light turns on and the vehicle usually gives an audible warning. Tires that are underinflated are more likely to blow out than ones that are properly inflated.
Many carmakers now offer high-tech safety systems to help you avoid crashes and lessen the severity of crashes that do happen. Crash mitigation systems use sensors in the front of the car to detect how far the front bumper is from other cars. If you get too close, the car will sound an alarm, and in some cases, prime the brakes and tighten the seat belts. At slow speeds, the Volvo XC60 will even stop itself if it detects that you’re about to hit something. Mercedes-Benz has a system that detects when the driver is getting sleepy and sounds an alert. Options like blind spot monitoring are also beneficial. This system alerts the driver when another car is in the vehicle’s blind spot.
A rearview camera or rear obstacle detection system can help you see a child or object behind your car when you’re backing out of your driveway or parking spot. While these systems are no substitute for checking the rear of your car before you back out, they can help. Kids can dart behind cars, so an extra set of eyes is always a good idea.
These systems are becoming less expensive, and many carmakers are including them as standard equipment. Both the Honda CR-V and GMC Terrain crossover SUVs have a standard rearview camera. The Infiniti JX has an optional Around View monitor with moving object detection that shows objects to the front, rear and both sides of the vehicle.
If you’re shopping for a family vehicle, safety is probably one of your greatest concerns. These days, vehicles can come with more safety features than ever before, ranging from child safety seat latches and tethers to mechanical features that help you avoid a crash. These amenities give you peace of mind, but they will also help protect your loved ones if the unthinkable occurs.