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Caring for grandkids and keeping them safe on the road

As a grandparent involved in their grandkids’ everyday tasks and routines, much of your time with your grandchildren may be spent in the car. Whether it’s going to and from school, running errands or taking the kids to activities and events, you may find yourself spending a lot of time in your car. It’s vital to understand the ins and outs of safe car travel with kids in 2021, so everyone has the best and safest experience possible.

Grandchildren provide joy and add a new dimension to family dynamics. But for grandparents contributing to the care and upbringing of their grandchildren, things can get more complicated. Being responsible for your grandchildren may allow you to share in their daily lives, but it can also be overwhelming — especially when caring for more than one child at a time. You are not alone. It is estimated over 2.6 million children are being raised by their grandparents in the U.S. That’s why Bankrate put together a guide to help you navigate safe travel for you and your precious grandkids.

In this article

Driving laws and safety features

You are likely already familiar with common driving laws, such as maintaining a valid driver’s license, registering your vehicles and carrying the required amount of auto insurance. However, driving laws are updated all the time, and new ones are introduced for enhanced safety measures. In some cases, the things you did with your own children in the car, once considered legal, are no longer advised and may now be against the law.

Driving laws

Many of the latest driving laws are designed to make the roads safer, especially for children.

  • Seat belts: All states except New Hampshire have implemented seat belt laws. New York was the first state to pass a mandatory seat belt law in 1985, and now over 90% of all drivers use seat belts regularly.
  • Cell phone use: Distracted driving takes on numerous forms, and when it comes to cell phones, it is illegal in many states to use one while driving unless it is hands-free. According to crash data, between 14% to 17% of vehicle crashes are a result of distracted driving, including cell phone use.
  • Unattended children: Leaving a child unattended in a vehicle can lead to serious and deadly consequences, which has led to 19 states passing laws making it illegal to leave a child six years of age or younger alone in a car. Leaving children unattended is dangerous for many reasons, including accidental heatstroke, trunk entrapment or putting the vehicle in gear.

Car safety features

Today’s vehicles are more equipped than ever with safety features, some of which have been in place for years, and others found on newer cars.

Standard safety features: Standard safety features provide basic protection for you and your grandchildren. While these were once considered “new” ideas, these features are now found in every newer vehicle. If you are considering purchasing an older car, be sure to confirm these standard items are included:

  • Seat belts
  • Air bags
  • Door and window locks
  • Anti-lock brakes
  • Traction control

Newer safety features: Some safety features have just become available in recent years and provide greater protection for both drivers and passengers. These newer safety features can play a pivotal role in keeping you and your grandkids safe in the car.

  • Backup camera
  • Blind spot detection
  • Lane departure warning
  • Automatic headlights
  • Collision warning and automatic braking

Car emergency kit: A car emergency kit can be invaluable in keeping you and your grandchildren safe if you get stranded on the side of the road or encounter something that delays you on your journey.

A well-stocked car emergency kit includes:
  • Spare tire and carjack
  • Jumper cables or portable battery charger
  • Water and snacks
  • Flashlight and batteries
  • Phone car charger or portable power bank
  • Roadside assistance phone number
  • Emergency contact numbers
  • Blankets

 

Car seats

Car seats continue to be one of the most important investments to make for children’s safety while riding in vehicles. As a grandparent, you may remember when car seats were only required for infants (or possibly not at all), but these days, children need age-appropriate car seats for numerous stages of childhood.

Choose age and size-appropriate seats

There are four milestones to consider when choosing age and size-appropriate car seats for each child. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) outlines these four ages and stages including:

  • Rear-facing: Children should sit in a rear-facing car seat from birth until ages two to four. They should always be placed in a backseat when possible and never in the front seat near an active air bag. Children are ready to move to the next seat when they meet the car seat’s specific age and weight requirements.
  • Forward-facing with harness: The next stage for car seats is a forward-facing car seat with a harness, which is intended for use until around age five. Forward-facing car seats should also never be placed in the front seat in front of an active air bag. Again, check the car seat manufacturer’s recommendations for height and weight to determine when to move to the next stage of car seats.
  • Booster seat: Once a child outgrows the recommended weight for a forward-facing seat, a booster seat is needed. The booster seat is used until the seat belt fits across the chest and lap properly, typically around nine to 12 years old. Booster seats should also be used in the back seat when possible, as the child is still not the proper height and weight to sit near an active air bag.
  • Seat belt: Seat belts should be used at all times, starting when children are about four feet, nine inches tall. The backseat is still the safest location for children, but you can check your car’s manual to see what height and weight are appropriate for the front seat.

Sleeping in car seats

We have all been told to let babies sleep, but when they fall asleep in their car seats, it may call for waking them up. It’s tempting to let them stay in their car seat once they are moved inside, but doctors advise against this because of safety concerns. This is also true for bouncers, swings, strollers and other baby gear. It is unsafe to let babies sleep in car seats and other baby gear because the position of their bodies may inhibit their breathing over a long period.

Other transportation safety concerns

It’s true for parents and grandparents alike that there is always something to worry about when it comes to raising children. It can be easy to forget other safety guidelines for children in the modern world in our busy everyday lives.

COVID safety

COVID safety continues to be a top concern as the Delta variant spreads across the country. It’s important to remind children (and ourselves) of important safety measures recommended by the CDC to help limit the spread as much as possible.

  • Hand washing: Children need to wash their hands frequently, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Carry hand sanitizer: For times when hand washing is not possible, hand sanitizer is another option. The CDC recommends using one with at least 60% alcohol for maximum effectiveness.
  • Wear a mask: Wearing a mask in public places is still a recommended precaution, even if it is not required by the school or mandated by the state.
  • Stay home when sick: If a child shows any symptoms of an infectious illness, they should stay home. Testing is also recommended as an extra precaution.

School drop-off and pick-up

No matter the age of your grandchildren, having a safety and transportation plan in place when school starts is essential. Each child should understand their pick-up and drop-off schedule and how important it is to stick to it. If something disrupts the plans, be sure to discuss the backup plan and when to call you or another guardian. You can also implement your own safety protocols, such as younger kids having a “password” if another adult tries to pick them up and offer a ride home.

Carpooling

Carpooling is a great way to save time and money, but safety precautions are still needed. Each passenger needs to use their seatbelt properly and follow any safety rules you have in place, such as wearing a mask in the car or no distractions allowed. Clearly explaining the rules to each child and their primary caregiver before the carpool starts can help keep everyone safe and happy during carpooling.

Don’t forget to take care of yourself

Self-care comes in many forms, from keeping up with your health goals to incorporating your favorite activities into your weekly routine. Even though you are focused on your responsibilities to your grandchildren, you should still be mindful of taking time for yourself and allow space for your reflection, refueling and recharging.

Don’t forget your health

One of the best gifts you can give your loved ones is taking care of your health. This means prioritizing your check-ups and regular health screenings. Getting plenty of exercise and focusing on good nutrition is critical for disease prevention and maintaining a healthy weight. It also gives you energy for all the activities you have planned with your grandchildren.

Make time for yourself

Taking time for yourself is not anything to feel guilty about. Hobbies are a great way to add purpose to your daily living, especially when they are activities you love. Don’t be afraid to say no to helping if you find it is harming your mental health or creating unnecessary stress. As grandparents, there are several ways to stay involved without stress, such as occasional babysitting or enjoying activities together.

Get plenty of rest

In your earlier days, you likely worked all hours of the day. Now it is your turn to slow down and enjoy your later years. Taking naps, learning to sit and relax and getting seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night are ways you can stay refreshed and healthy. Not getting enough sleep can lead to multiple problems for older adults, including depression, irritability and making them more prone to falls.

Focus on mental health

Your mental health is as critical as your physical, spiritual and emotional health. Purposefully focusing on your mental health by talking to your friends, a therapist or trusted family member when you need encouragement are examples of healthy practices. Several apps are available when you need something on the go, such as the Calm appMoodfit and Talkspace.

Resources

There are numerous resources available for adults with responsibilities and duties centered around their grandchildren. Asking for help may be challenging, but it’s worth it when you know where to turn for additional answers. The resources aren’t limited to financial aid or advice either. There are programs available ranging from short-term housing and nutritional programs to learning to navigate new driving laws and technology.

Resource Description
Mature driver course Learn the latest facts and guidelines for older drivers and the latest safety rules older drivers should know.
Financial assistance There are a wide variety of financial assistance programs available for both temporary situations and ongoing support, including:
TFA
SNAP
CHIP
TANF
Mental health support Find a list of resources available for adults 55 and older, including dealing with depression and aging.
Child CPR Taking an online class or in-person training for child CPR can teach valuable lifesaving skills.
Grandparents state facts sheet A resource guide for each state which details data, legal resources and educational resources for grandparents.
AARP The AARP features resources specifically for grandparents, from helpful tips to finding local support groups for grandparents raising grandchildren.
Generations United Full of resources specifically for grandparents and the caregiving of grandchildren and the policies that may affect them.
GrandFamilies of America A resource dedicated to family members raising other family members, including grandparents. Provides workshops and vital information for caregivers.

When you imagined your role as a grandparent, you may not have envisioned all the daily tasks involved, such as pick-up up from school and helping with homework. Raising your grandchildren was probably not in the picture either. However, if this applies to you now, there are safety rules you can put in place and resources to turn to in order to prioritize the safety and wellbeing of both you and your grandchildren. When everyone’s safety and health are prioritized, you can relax as you play a pivotal role in your grandchildren’s lives.

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