What You Need To Know About Teen and Child Car Safety

What hazards do teen drivers face on the road?

Even more than drinking and driving — which thanks to strong messaging is at an all-time low — distracted driving is a huge problem for teens. This includes anything that takes their attention away from the road: cell phones, texting, music and GPS, but most of all, other passengers. For every additional passenger, the fatal crash rate goes up. New York has a good graduated licensing program that helps limit the number of passengers, but parents can do their part too in making teens earn driving (and passenger) privileges in three-month increments.

What is the number one thing parents can do to help keep their teen drivers safe?

Get involved and stay involved.  Just because a teen has completed driver’s education training and has received a license does not mean he or she is road ready. Studies show that the part of the brain affecting judgment is not fully developed until age 25. So this fact, combined with novice driving skills, means that teens need more supervision than you might think.  Here are some steps that parents should consider:

  • Give teens a 10 pm curfew. Most fatal crashes occur at night, so this takes the teen off the road during the most dangerous hours.
  • Don’t give teens carte blanche for use of the car. Teens who have to ask for permission to take the car have fewer crashes, better safety records and higher rates of seatbelt use.
  • Make safe driving an ongoing dialogue from the time your teen is able to sit beside you in the front seat (typically at around age 13). Point out unsafe behaviors in other drivers. Discuss why you make certain driving decisions. Describe what you are doing. This will give your teen context and rationale for the things that you do automatically based on your more than 20 years of experience behind the wheel.
  • Model safe driving behaviors. If you talk on your cell phone, eat lunch, apply makeup and peek at text messages while driving, why should a teen listen to you when you ask them not to do the same?
  • Talk with other parents. Agree to enforce these guidelines together. But don’t be afraid to be the heavy, or the unpopular parent when needed.

What about these parent/teen driver “contracts.” Are they effective?

Yes, because they make expectations clear upfront.  Some common agreements: not to text and drive, to be home at a certain time, to not drink and drive but also to not get in a car with a driver who has been drinking, and so on. Some parents and teens agree upon a code word that when used the parent agrees to pick the teen up at the party or whatever unsafe situation he or she might be in, no questions asked.

What are the new guidelines for child safety seats?

Over the past several years, not only has the American Academy of Pediatrics updated its recommendations, but New York State has made changes in the laws governing child seats. Here are the most up-to-date guidelines.

  • Infants and toddlers: Should remain in rear-facing seats as long as possible, often up to age 2 or until the child outgrows the seat’s weight and height limits. This position protects against spinal cord injuries in the event of a head-on collision (the most common type).
  • Children: Must remain in car seats until age 8. However, they can graduate to a booster seat when they outgrow the height and weight limits of their forward-facing seat. The booster seat helps ensure that both the lap belt and the shoulder harness are in the correct position. You want the belts to lie across bones — not soft tissue — to prevent internal injuries in case of a crash.
  • Older children and teens: A child is the right size to fit a standard seatbelt properly when they pass the 5-step test:
    1. The child can sit all the way back against the auto seat.
    2. The child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat.
    3. The belt crosses the shoulder between the neck and arm.
    4. The lap belt is low, touching the thighs.
    5. The child will stay seated the ways described in 1 through 4 above, for the whole trip. 
    If the answer is “no” to any of these questions, keep the child in a booster seat. Also, because of the angle and force of the airbags when deployed, children should not ride in the front seat until age 13.

Choosing A First Car For Your Teen

Watching your teen get behind the wheel for the first time on their own is an exciting moment — but it can also be overwhelming at the same time. Ease your mind by knowing they’re getting behind the wheel of a safe, dependable car that you’ve helped them choose.

So if you’re in the market for a new car for your teen, read these tips for picking out that perfect first set of wheels.

Size. Small sports cars and huge SUVs might seem like attractive options (especially to your teen!), but in reality, a midsized car is your best bet. The bigger and heavier the vehicle, the better it protects in the event of a crash.

Horsepower. Steer your teen away from vehicles with a high horsepower, as a more powerful engine can be tempting to test out.

New vs. used. Whether you choose to buy new or used largely depends on your budget and what you’re comfortable spending. If you do buy used, remember the later the model, the better. Consult The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety for the best used models for teens.

Safety. Of course, you’ll want to choose a vehicle with the best safety and crash test ratings possible. Also look for features like side airbags and electronic stability control (ESC), which helps drivers maintain control on curves and slippery roads.

Fuel. Unless you’re willing to cover the cost of filling your teen’s tank each week, be sure to look at a car’s fuel efficiency. The better MPG, the easier it will be on your son or daughter.

Extras. There are numerous safe driving programs for teens out there, so consider installing the app on both your own and your teen’s phones to keep an eye on their driving habits.

Buying A Car With Bad Credit

f you have previous credit problems on your record and need to purchase a car, you may need to apply for what is called a bad credit used car loan. A bad credit used car loan will allow you to purchase a vehicle, but you will usually be expected to pay it off in a shorter time frame and at a higher rate of interest.

Today many traditional car lenders are offering extended payment terms; some allow you up to seven years to pay off the vehicle. A bad credit used car loan usually must be repaid within a 48-month time frame. Since the vehicle you are buying is used and your amount financed will be less, the lender expects the loan to be paid off in a shorter amount of time.

Research the Prices of Used Cars

Before making an offer on a used car, you should research the average price value. By doing this you will know if a dealer has inflated the price in order to make an excessive profit. You will want to make sure you are purchasing the car from a reputable dealership.

There are a lot of companies who do most of their business with customers who have less than perfect credit scores. Some of these dealers may try to take advantage of customers. Just because you have had credit problems in the past, this does not mean you should pay an outrageous amount in interest rates or other fees.

Shop Online For a Lender

Online auto loan lenders make applying for a loan quick and convenient. By applying online you will have access to several lenders and their rates. Applications for online auto loans can be filled out in just a short time and the approval is almost always granted the same day.

An important point to remember when applying for a used car loan on bad credit is that banks have limits to how old of a vehicle you can purchase. The majority of banks will not grant loans to vehicles more than four or five years old. You should also try to make a substantial down payment when purchasing a used car. This will lower both the interest rate you are charged and the length of the loan.

Ways To Winterize Your Car

Vehicle safety is important during winter weather conditions, especially if you have to drive on icy or snowy road. Here’s how to winterize your car for colder days and make the driving easier on you.

Practice Your Winter Driving Skills

Be mindful of your driving habits and how they need to change on icy roads. Going slow around corners, tapping your brakes, giving other cars plenty of space and similar skills can help keep you safe.

Change Your Wiper Blades

Wiper blades can crack and split over time, leading to slow, squeaky blades that don’t perform well. And that’s the last thing you want for rainy or snowy winter weather. Change your wiper blades to winterize your car and consider buying more durable winter-ready wiper blades if you live in a harsher climate.

Track Your Tire Tread Durability

If you will be using the same tires during the winter months, check the treads to make sure they aren’t worn down. The classic test is to take a penny and insert it in your grooves, Lincoln’s head facing down. If you can still see all of Lincoln’s head, your tires are balding and it’s probably time to replace them to winterize your car. And there are also professional measuring tools you can use.

Switch Over to Winter Tires if Necessary

Snow tires and all-season tires provide extra traction to help cover icy terrain and to winterize your car. If your local city allows these tires, look to see where and when they are recommended. Changing your tires over a couple times a year is worthwhile in snowy areas. And this may be required by law in bad conditions.

Check Your Battery

Extreme temperatures can affect batteries, so you should make sure that your battery is clean. And that the connections are secure and not corroded. If it’s an older battery, consider getting it tested and possibly replaced before the weather gets bad to winterize your car.

Sometimes doors can get stuck in cold weather conditions. You can fix this problem by cleaning your doors thoroughly and applying a light layer of oil or another lubricant to the edge of your car doors. This works to winterize your car for your hood and trunk, too.

End Of Summer Car Care

The vacations are over, the kids are back in school and cooler evenings have begun. Take advantage of the lull to prepare your vehicle for the winter ahead, that way you can avoid breakdowns!

First things first

Read your owner’s manual and follow the manufacturer’s recommended service schedules. There are usually two schedules listed: normal and severe.

Engine Performance

Have engine driveability problems (hard starts, rough idling, stalling, diminished power, etc.) corrected at a good repair shop. Cold weather will make existing problems worse. Replace dirty filtersair, fuel, PCV, etc.

Fuel

Put a bottle of fuel de-icer in your tank once a month to help keep moisture from freezing in the fuel line. Note, too, that a gas tank that’s kept filled helps prevent moisture from forming in the first place.

Oil

Change your oil and oil filter as specified in your manual more often (every 3,000 miles or so) if your driving is mostly stop-and-go or consists of frequent short trips.

Cooling System

The cooling system should be flushed and refilled as recommended. The level, condition, and concentration of the coolant should be checked periodically. (A 50/50 mix of anti-freeze and water is usually recommended.) If you’re doing your own work, allow the radiator to cool down completely before removing the cap. (Newer vehicles have coolant reservoirs.) The tightness and condition of drive belts, clamps, and hoses should be checked by a certified auto technician.

Heater/Defroster

The heater and defroster must be in good working condition for passenger comfort and driver visibility.

Windshield Wipers

Replace old blades. If your climate is harsh, purchase rubber-clad (winter) blades to fight ice build-up. Stock up on windshield washer solvent you’ll be surprised how much you use. Carry an ice-scraper.

Battery

The only accurate way to detect a weak battery is with professional equipment. But do-it-yourselfers can do routine maintenance. Scrape away corrosion from posts and cable connections; clean all surfaces; re-tighten all connections. If battery caps are removable, check fluid level monthly.

A word of caution:

Be sure to avoid contact with corrosive deposits and battery acid. Wear eye protection and rubber gloves. Note too that removal of cables can cause damage or loss of data/codes on some newer vehicles so refer to your manual for instructions.

Lights

Inspect all lights and bulbs; replace burned out bulbs; periodically clean road grime from all lenses with a moistened cloth or towel. To prevent scratching, never use a dry rag.

Exhaust System

Your vehicle should be placed on a lift and the exhaust system examined for leaks. The trunk and floorboards should be inspected for small holes. Exhaust fumes can be deadly.

Tires

Worn tires will be of little use in winter weather. Examine tires for remaining tread life, uneven wearing, and cupping; check the sidewalls for cuts and nicks. Check tire pressure once a month. Let the tires “cool down” before checking the pressure. Rotate as recommended. Don’t forget your spare, and be sure the jack is in good condition.

Emergencies

Carry gloves, boots, blankets, flares, a small shovel, sand or kitty litter, tire chains, a flashlight, and a cell phone. Put a few “high-energy” snacks in your glove box.