How to keep your child safe on the roads (and in your car)

Like all mums (and dads) we worry about keeping our children safe and healthy. And a recent visit to a speed awareness course brought home just how vulnerable they are on the roads – and in our cars.

So it seemed a good opportunity to get advice on how we can learn to better protect them, and what resources are available for parents regarding road and car safety.

Why the roads are so dangerous for our children

I’m a great believer in finding (or making) a silver lining in every experience – no matter how bad. And I’m really pleased that getting caught speeding led me to attend a speed awareness course.

Like many busy mums, I’m often late for a meeting or school, and frequently distracted at the wheel by thoughts running through my head, or endless questions and demands shouted from the back seat.

So it was worrying to realise just how many people on my speed awareness course were caught for the same reasons – they were late, harassed and distracted. Especially as we learned just how dangerous a few miles over the speed limit can be if a child steps out in front of your car, or veers across the road on their bike.

Getting advice from the experts

The course really made me think – and worry. I realised just how vulnerable we all are around moving vehicles, but more so children who don’t really understand the dangers of cars, or who are easily distracted as they walk, cycle or play along or by roads. Even inside a car they can be at risk if they’re not securely strapped into the correct child seat.

So I contacted the organisation that arranged my speed awareness course – Sussex Safer Roads Partnership – and asked them if they had any road and driving safety advice for parents, and tips on how we can help to keep our children safer when we’re out and about.

Keeping babies and toddlers safe

The most important part of keeping a baby or child safe in your car – or someone else’s car – is to make sure they have the right seat for their size, and it is properly fitted. The Child Car Seats website guides you through choosing and fitting child car seats, and explains the law and what safety standards you should look out for.

It even has advice on carrying other peoples’ children safely, and advice on seatbelt wearing while you are pregnant.

Keeping young children safe

Research shows that children aged 6-11 need to understand the reasons for always using good road safety behaviour. With this in mind, the Department for Transport has created a Tales of the Road campaign.

If you visit their website you’ll find a number of games featuring animated characters your child can play to learn good road sense, including the Stop Look and Listen Game, the Be Bright Be Seen Game, the Safer Place to Cross Game, and the Fix’N’Ride Cycling Game. You can even download a Safe Place to Cross toolkit, and a Highway Code booklet for kids.

If you’d like something a bit more hands on, some local authorities run pedestrian training for young children, like the Urban Footsteps programme offered by West Sussex. Local authorities also usually provide bike safety advice and training for primary-age children too, such as Bikeability.

Keeping young drivers safe

When your children are old enough to sit behind the wheel themselves, there’s still plenty you can do to help keep them safe. Research shows that if you set rules for your teenage children when driving, they’re far less likely to have an accident. On the Safe Teen Driving Club website you can download a pledge with facts about teen driving, and guidance for your child to abide by – giving you the chance to discuss the subject with them (and explain why it’s so important) before both signing the pledge.

Some local authorities may also offer free programmes for new drivers (like this one in Sussex – they also run a free programme for young motorcyclists) to help increase their knowledge and skills on the road. You can find a list of other advanced driving training options here.

Hopefully some of this advice will be helpful to you. I know I’m certainly going to sit down with my children and explain road safety again (and let them play the games on the Tales of the Road website). You never know when it may just help save their life.