I have been legally driving now for close to 30 years. When you grow up in rural Saskatchewan driving is something you learn early and getting your licence means freedom. There is no public transportation in the country, and your mom will only play chauffeur so many times. So, after decades of driving, through just about any kind of weather you can imagine, I am a pretty confident driver. I can handle blizzards and icy highways. Gravel roads that feel like you’re driving on a washboard. Crosswinds that feel like they are going to blow you off the road. This is all second nature to me now. But, as confident as I am behind the wheel, when I became a parent and suddenly had this vulnerable, precious cargo to haul around, I had to learn a few new things. And after 7 years of driving with a kid on board I have some essential tips to share.
I’m not going to tell you which brand I think is best because it’s all a matter of preference, budget and what works in your specific vehicle but the basic things you need to know are:
- All car and booster seats sold by major retailers, no matter the cost, have passed the mandatory safety testing and you can be assured they are safe to use.
- Safety seats should not be bought out of country and brought to Canada to be used. They may not meet our safety standards and should not be used here.
- Know your provincial safety seat rules! Each province has its own laws around child seat requirements. Know them and follow them!
- Follow the installation instructions and height/weight limits on the manual that came with your car seat. Never throw away that manual. Car seats now have a built in slot to store the manual.
- If you have any doubt about your seat being installed correctly find a car seat clinic or expert and have it double checked.
- Stop using the car seat if your child has maxed out the height OR weight limits, if the car seat has expired, if the straps or any part of the seat is malfunctioning/damaged or if it has been involved in an accident.
- Keep your eyes open for recalls on your car seat. You can check the Transport Canada recall database anytime for your make and model.
Kids in the back seat
I know it’s cool to ride up front with mom or dad. But even if your child has finally outgrown the booster seat, keep them in the back seat until they are at least 12 years old.
Surely you know by now you shouldn’t text and drive. Nor should you drive while using your phone at all – unless you are using a hands free device (and even the safety of that is highly debatable). But your phone is just one of many, many distraction you will face when driving, especially with kids in the car.
- Eat before you go. I know, snacking is just part of road tripping right? If you are going to eat and drive minimize the distraction by bringing along snacks that are easily accessible, things like nuts or pretzels that only require one hand to eat (and please open the package before you head out!).
- If your child is old enough, give them crayons and colouring books, ipads, whatever you feel comfortable giving them to keep them entertained on longer trips.
- Set rules and enforce them. Be honest with kids that are older and let them know that them misbehaving, yelling, etc is a huge distraction that could cause you to lose focus and have an accident.
- Planning on cranking the tunes? Nothing wrong with that but make sure you have it all ready to go before you hit the road. Dial in your favorite station, or have your phone charged up and connected if you are going to stream from there.
Hit the Hay
Tired drivers are dangerous drivers. If you are planning a road trip be sure to get a good night’s sleep the night before. If you have another adult coming along, spell off if you start to feeling drowsy. Stay hydrated and stop every few hours to get some fresh air and stretch your legs.
Always carry a first aid kit in your car. It’s not a bad idea to have jumper cables either (especially if you don’t have a roadside assistance plan). And if you are driving in winter always travel with a winter emergency kit that includes items like candles, water, dry or canned food, flashlight, blanket and a shovel. Always check your gas gauge before heading out (especially in the winter) and make sure you have more than enough fuel to get to your destination or the next gas station.
The most important thing you can do to keep you and your family safe while driving, whether that’s just around town or on longer road trips, is to make sure your car is mechanically sound. Having your car serviced on a regular basis might sound like a pain but honestly it’s not only going to help keep you safe but it’s going to cost you less in the long run. Regular maintenance checks can catch problems before they become a safety hazard and before they break completely and cost you a fortune to fix. And while you are ensuring your car is in tip top shape do not neglect your tires! Proper tire care is essential to the safety and reliability (not to mention fuel economy) of your car. The tire is the connection between you and the road and most people grossly underestimate the importance of them. Here are some essential tire care tips:
- Buy quality. I know, tires are a big investment. But they are an important investment. A good quality tire from a brand like Hankook is worth every penny.
- Buy the right tire! Obviously you need the right size tired for your vehicle but you also need tires that have the right material and tread for the conditions you are driving in. Summer tires don’t cut it in winter and winter tires are horrible to drive on in the summer. All Season tires are a great option in many locations that don’t have really harsh winters with a lot of snow.
- Check your tire pressure. Ideally you should be checking your tire pressure once a month and before you hit the road for an extended trip (and don’t forget to check the spare). Don’t know how to check your pressure? It’s easy! Get yourself a tire pressure gauge. They aren’t too expensive and you can find them at any place that sells “car stuff”. Be sure to check your tires when they are “cold” which means before you’ve driven or at least three hours after you’ve driven. Insert the gauge into the valve and follow the directions that came with the gauge. Record the measurement. Now grab your car manual OR look for the sticker that is on the inside of your driver’s side door and compare. DO NOT use the numbers on your tire! That number indicated the maximum allowable air pressure for your tire which will always be higher than the recommended pressure for your vehicle. If your pressure it too high let some air out and measure again. If the pressure is too low add air and measure again. Having the correct pressure in your tires is essential for safe handling and even wear on your tires.
- Have your tires rotated on a regular basis (your car owner’s manual will recommend how often) and have a professional check your wheel alignment each year. When you have your vehicle in for any kind of service or maintenance have them take a look at your tread and make sure it isn’t damaged or worn too much.
We’ve done a fair amount of driving this summer. No long road trips but back and forth to the lake just about every single weekend all summer. And, just in case you’ve never driven in Saskatchewan, I’ll let you know – our roads are horrible. Having good quality tires here is absolutely essential, and not just in the winter. So I was thrilled to be able to get a set of Hankook Kinergy GT all-season tires to replace the factory summer tires that came with my now five year old SUV. And I can’t wait to put a few more miles on them so I can share my thoughts on them with you.
Do you have any safe driving tips or advice to pass on to other parents? I’d love to hear them!
I am pleased to bring you this post in partnership with Hankook Tire Canada Corporation. All opinions expressed in this post are strictly my own.