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Dana Holmes

6 Car Safety Mistakes You Might Be Making

New baby, new rules for the road.

We know you want to do everything you can to keep baby safe, whether you’re at home or on the road. But since it’s likely been a while since driver’s ed, now’s a good time to brush up on car and driving safety. We rounded up some of the most common mistakes new parents tend to make—from forgetting to rotate tires to not removing baby’s winter coat—along with tips for keeping your newest passenger (and the whole family) safe. Read on, then get ready to load up and roll out with confidence.

Mistake #1: Not giving your car regular checkups

Missing scheduled maintenance for things like oil changes and brake inspections can lead to a slew of avoidable problems that could put your family in danger on the road (not to mention land your car in the shop). Read your manual and put reminders on your calendar, and while you’re at it, add reminders to check your tire pressure and tread depth each month. Underinflated tires can cause side-wall damage, while overinflated tires can cause irregular wear. The tire tread is what keeps your tires gripping the road, so when it’s worn down, your vehicle’s more likely to slip and slide. Use the penny test to check the tread depth and see whether your tires need to be replaced. (But keep in mind, not all tires are created equal; MICHELIN® Premier® tires have been shown to perform more consistently over time for longer-lasting safety. Read more about it here).

Mistake #2: Putting little ones in the wrong spot

You probably know that car seats need to be placed in the back seat, but did you know the center seat is generally the safest location in case of a crash? (If your back-center seat doesn’t have latches or isn’t wide enough to create a stable base for a car seat, it’s totally fine to go with the left or right seat.) And although many parents want their babies to face forward so they can better keep an eye on them, it’s recommended to keep them rear-facing as long as possible, until they reach the car seat’s height and weight limits for turning around. Once they’re facing forward, they’ll still need to stay in the back seat until age 12—front passenger airbags are lifesaving for adults, but can be fatal for smaller passengers.

Mistake #3: Not installing a car seat properly

A car seat is only as ironclad as its installation. Since it only takes a little wiggle room to compromise safety, it’s crucial to do it correctly. Tip: If the car seat can move more than one inch in any direction, it’s considered too loose. Checking the angle of the seat is also key to proper installation: Most car seats come with a level or other indicator to confirm it’s positioned for a safe ride. If you’re unsure at all, the best thing you can do is have a licensed inspector check your work or even install the car seat for you. (Find a nearby car seat inspection station or upcoming child passenger safety event here.)

Mistake #4: Forgetting to rotate or replace your tires

Your tires are your car’s connection to the road, so making sure they’re in good condition is one of the most important factors when it comes to car safety. The general rule of thumb is to rotate your tires every six months, or every 6,000 to 8,000 miles, to ensure they wear evenly, which in turn maximizes their life span. But if you notice excessive wear (through the penny test, mentioned above), it’s time to spring for a new set. Look for dependable tires, like MICHELIN® Premier® A/S: even when worn, they’ve been shown to come to a complete stop when other worn tires are still traveling over 15 MPH.*

Mistake #5: Leaving kids unattended—even for a few minutes

Warm temperatures inside a car can put a child in danger, and it doesn’t have to be super hot outside for heatstroke to strike. In fact, 51 children were lost to vehicular heatstroke in 2018, and several of these deaths occurred on days that never even reached 80 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s because heat and sunlight enter through the car windows and warm the inside air quickly—think nearly a 20 degree increase in temperature in only 10 minutes, even with the windows cracked. This is just one reason why it’s never okay to leave your children (or pets!) in the car unattended, even for a quick errand, regardless of the outside temperature.

Mistake #6: Dressing baby in a winter coat

On a cold winter day, you might not give a second thought about putting your little one in a warm jacket before strapping them into the car seat. But a puffy coat can prevent the seat’s straps from laying snugly enough against baby’s body—which means baby could slip out in a crash. Your safest bet is to skip the jacket or snowsuit and dress them in layers. You can always add a blanket that fits on the exterior of the car seat to keep them warm while you wait for the heater to do its thing.

*All tires wear out and should eventually be replaced. Based on MICHELIN® internal worn wet braking test results from 50 MPH vs. Goodyear Assurance WeatherReady All Weather tire (traveling 15 MPH, 6 feet beyond where the MICHELIN® Premier® A/S tire has stopped) in size 215/55R17 94V on a 2019 Honda HR-V. All tires were machine-buffed to 3/32". Actual on-road results may vary.

This article is sponsored by Michelin. Learn more about keeping baby safe on the road—and the importance of a good set of tires—from The Bump and Michelin.

Photo: Shutterstock