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Kids must obey rules of the road Safety first: If child won't stay buckled in car seat, parents should refuse to drive.


My son won't sit in his car seat, and if I put him in it, he slips right out when I get on the road. Help!

Carol Pitchford,

Denton, Texas

Parents across the country -- many of them veterans of car-seat wars fought in their own family vehicles -- follow one simple, unbreakable rule of the road:

If the car seat's not buckled, the car doesn't move.

"Children have to understand from the beginning that using a car seat is not negotiable," says John Cartwright, a reader from Raleigh, N.C.

Considering the fact that car seats reduce a preschooler's chances of dying in a crash by almost half, the dozens of parents who contacted Child Life feel justified in being adamant in enforcing this rule. The National Safety Council estimates that car seats reduce the likelihood of fatal injury by 69 percent for children younger than 1 and by 47 percent for children 1 to 4.

"We really hope parents will treat a child trying to crawl out of a safety seat as seriously as any other life-threatening behavior," says Beth Strickland, executive director of SAFE KIDS of Georgia, which brings child-safety programs into communities.

Climbing out of a car seat should be equated with playing with matches or reaching for a hot stove burner, says Ms. Strickland, who is also on staff at Egleston Children's Hospital in Atlanta.

Here's how Lora Saunders, a mother from North Canton, Ohio, does it: If your child gets out of his car seat while you're driving, pull safely to the side of the road, stop the car and wait until he's back in his car seat.

This has worked particularly well when the destination was a child's favorite, she says.

Or you may want to try telling the child before you leave that you will return home if he does not sit in his car seat, suggests Joan Murray of Mahwah, N.J. Then follow through on your promise. "Never, never threaten without following through," she says.

If it's impractical to forgo the trip, try arranging for a sitter, so the child stays behind while everyone else who buckles up gets to go, says Beth Abinanti of San Francisco.

If problems begin before you're even out of the driveway, you might want to take Judy McCloud's advice. The Petaluma, Calif., mother always told her children that the car simply would not start -- literally -- without each occupant buckled up. They believed her.

Finally, make sure that every adult who drives your children enforces the car seat rule, says Randi Saul-Olson of Visalia, Calif. Never make exceptions, even for Grandma," she says.

While more parents are using car seats than ever before, many are not using them properly, which can also lead to accidental injury, says Ms. Strickland of the SAFE KIDS organization. She recommends carefully reading the owner's manual of both the safety seat and the vehicle.

Here are more ideas from parents:

* Make sure your child has a view of the world whizzing by him, advises Vaune Arellano of Buffalo, N.Y. "Sometimes being able to see keeps them occupied."

* Buy him a toy steering wheel to attach to the car seat, says Betty Jack, a grandmother from Canton, Ohio, who remembers her kids happily playing with one.

* Books, stuffed animals and a library of audio tapes are the answer for Doreena Cato of Cranston, R.I., and her preschoolers.

* Babs Bell Hajdusiewicz, an author from Richardson, Texas, wrote a song to the tune of "Are You Sleeping?" for parents and children to sing as they get into the car: "Where's my seat belt?/Where's my seat belt/ Here it is!/Here it is!/ Watch how I can hook it!/Watch how I can hook it!/ Now I'm safe!/Now I'm safe!"

* A friendly chat from a police officer did the trick for Dorothy Dalski's 2-year-old. "He was impressed with someone in a policeman's uniform," the Willits, Calif., mother says.

If you would like information on a SAFE KIDS program in your area, contact the National SAFE KIDS Campaign at (202) 884-4993.

Can you help?

Here's a new question from a parent who needs your help. If you have tips, or if you have questions of your own, please call our toll-free hot line any time at (800) 827-1092. Or write to Child Life, 2212 The Circle, Raleigh, N.C. 27608.

* A fine line: A mom who lives in a very urban area that can be dangerous is struggling between the desire to allow her children independence and her worries for their safety. "I have a 9-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy," says Rosemarie Rowell of Reseda, Calif. "For example, how old should they be before they ride a mile on their bikes to the store? I'm interested in how other parents have handled issues like this in today's dangerous world."

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