While it may sound like an exaggeration, I find driving my own kids around to be kind of scary, because while I can control my car seats and the way I’m driving, no matter how hard I try I can’t control other drivers. But that fear doesn’t hold a candle to the fear of sending my kids off in someone else’s car. When someone else drives my children, not only am I not in control of any of the drivers, but I’m also not usually in charge of the car seating either. And a few years ago, this concern came to life in the scariest way.

While I was in labor with my second son, my husband got a phone call. He wouldn’t tell me what it was about since we had enough going on in that moment, but once the baby was safely delivered, he told me that the call had been to let us know that our oldest child had been in a crash. Thankfully, he was fine because it was a minor collision and because the driver had installed his seat correctly and had buckled him in properly. It was the best outcome of a personal worst case scenario.

When a friend asked me how to help keep her baby safe when someone else was driving him around, I realized that it’s not a topic we spend enough time covering. I’d like to share some of the tips I’ve developed that give me peace of mind when other people drive my kids.

You Asked: How do I keep my kids safe when someone else is driving?

First and foremost, never let someone talk you into something that doesn’t feel safe or isn’t legal. This is a good life mantra in general, but I mean it specifically for child passenger safety today.

It doesn’t matter if grandma finds a booster seat to be more convenient – if your child isn’t ready, it isn’t the right choice. It doesn’t matter if your aunt thinks he looks so cramped rear facing, if your child isn’t 2 yet or if you just aren’t ready to turn him around, don’t do it. You are the boss of your kids, don’t be afraid to make the tough, but safe, choice for your child. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for your choices either.

Now that that’s out of the way, there are several ways to help keep your child(ren) safe in someone else’s car.

If you can, install their seat yourself and demonstrate harnessing with your child in the seat. If possible, you even want to be the person who does the final buckling before they drive off. This is the gold standard in an ideal situation, but it’s also not possible a lot of the time so you may have to get a bit more creative.

If installing the seat yourself isn’t a possibility, talk your child’s caregiver through the process ahead of time, when time isn’t limited and there’s no pressure. Also, provide them with a manual that you’ve reviewed recently. My trick is that I pull the digital version up on my phone so that if there are questions, I can easily refer to the manual myself and give tips. This actually helped me out just last month when my son’s babysitter needed to remove his (latched) booster out of her car before I got there and she didn’t know how to do it. I was able to scroll through the manual, find the page and show her what to do.

If the person isn’t confident with the installation or you want to offer an extra support, you can send links to youtube installation videos. I’m sure some will think this is overkill and that’s fine, but I am of the mind that I’d rather offer too much help than not enough.

Once you’re confident with the installation, show the caregiver how the harness should be, in person if possible. If your child will be wearing the same clothes the whole time they’re with this caregiver, you can get them harnessed in the seat and then remove them from the seat without loosening the straps so it’s appropriately tight. If you do this, make sure to show how to tighten and loosen the harness, just in case your caregiver needs to. If you can’t demonstrate in person, showing them images like these can help.

If your child is old enough to understand and remember, start teaching them car seat rules. My 3 and 5 year old know where their chest clips go and that their harness should feel “snug as a hug”. We started working on this when they were 2 years old, though it takes some time and repetition. Every time I buckled them, I would have them show me where the chest clip should be. Then I would tighten and ask if they were “snug as a hug.” Once I felt like they had a good grasp on the idea, I would occasionally not tighten them fully and see how they responded when I asked if their harness was snug. Truthfully, teaching my kids this has even saved me on several occasions when I’ve started to back out of our driveway without tightening the straps on my 5-year-old who buckles himself, but cannot tighten the straps on his own.

Teaching your kids how their seat should feel and be positioned, and that it’s okay to speak up about it (politely, obviously), will go a long way towards keeping them safe when you can’t be with them.

So, you asked: how do I keep my kids safe when someone else is driving and the simple answers are:
  1. Install the seat yourself, or make sure the person installing it knows exactly what to do.
  2. Demonstrate proper harnessing or show pictures so they know exactly what to do.
  3. As your children acquire language and an opinion, teach them what proper usage should look and feel like so they can advocate for themselves.

More on keeping kids safe in the car:

5 Tips for Sharing Carseat Tips with Friends

Tweenbelt Safety