Travel safe with kids for holidays

Going with your children over the river and through the woods to Grandma's house for the holidays? Before you do, make sure you and your family will be traveling safely.

Check your car seat before you go

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that motor vehicle injuries are the leading cause of death for children in the United States. Many of these deaths could have been prevented had car seats appropriate for the age and size of the child been used. The CDC suggests that parents read the labels on children's car seats to verify it is the right size and type for the child.

All children younger than 12 years should ride in the back seat. Children up to the age of 4 should be in a child safety seat, and children between the ages of 4 and 8, or who are smaller than 4 feet, 9 inches tall should be in a booster seat.

"When we do road blocks, we see a lot of the child restraint seats that are put in improperly," said Newton County Sheriff Joe Nichols. "If you go to the trouble to buy one, then take the extra step and make sure you put the thing in correctly. You can ask a Georgia State Patrol officer, deputy or any law enforcement officer who handles traffic to check your car seat and make sure you have it installed properly."

It's also recommended that parents bring their child's car seat when flying. The Federal Aviation Administration and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend children 4 years and younger be secured in FAA-approved car safety seats. While most car seats are certified for use on planes, booster seats are not, so it's a good idea to check with the airlines prior to travel.

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers an online guide that explains the different types of car seats, the proper way to install them, and provides other car seat safety tips. For more information, visit www.aap.org/family/carseatguide.htm.

Buckle up the correct way

A safety belt does no good if not worn correctly. Nichols said law enforcement officials often see accidents where passengers were injured because they had adjusted their seat belts in such a way to avoid wrinkling their clothes, or they put their arm over the shoulder strap instead of putting the strap over their shoulder. A seat belt should be buckled low on the hips, not high across the abdomen. The shoulder belt should go diagonally across the body and over the shoulder, but never under the arm.

Pack your car wisely

Another important tip for safe travel is to secure toys, food or other items before driving off. Loose items can fly and hit passengers should a car stop suddenly or roll over in an accident. Nichols said it was not uncommon to see front-seat passengers sustain injuries from heavy items, such as a computer, that were flung from the back seat when a car came to an unexpected halt.

In general, it is wise to put most items on the floor, he said.

"If you're carrying food to church on Sunday or a cake to a friend, put it on the floor," said Nichols, "Don't put it on the seat because if you see a cake sliding forward, you are instinctively going to go after it and forget about your driving skills. I've seen 40 years of misfortune because of people not thinking about the consequences of their actions."

Plan well so you can travel safely

Before leaving on a trip, it is advisable to check the weather and travel conditions. While on the road, it is also a good idea to listen to the radio for weather and traffic updates. Travelers should always carry a map and have a backup plan should there be stalled traffic or road closures.

"Know where you're going," said Nichols, "and leave before you think you need to."

Travel times are always longer during the holidays, he said.

"If it normally takes you two hours to get somewhere, then it's going to take you significantly longer because of holiday traffic," Nichols said.