Precious cargo: How to buy, install, and register child car safety seats


mother buckling a smiling baby in a child car safety seat

Car crashes are the leading cause of death for US children aged 3 to 14, yet many of those deaths may be preventable with the proper use of car safety seats. A 2017 study by the CDC published in The Journal of Pediatrics showed that 20% of children who were in a car crash where someone died were not buckled in properly or were not wearing a seat belt at all, as were 43% of children who died themselves.

Buying a child safety or booster seat for your car shouldn’t be a quick or easy purchase if you want to ensure your child’s safety. Do you know the various types of seats and which is appropriate when? Are you choosing the right seat for your child and your vehicle? Is the seat properly installed and is your child properly secured? Do you know when to change/upgrade the seat as your child grows? The Mayo Clinic lists 9 common mistakes parents make when installing and using car seats.

First, know your state law. The Governors Highway Safety Association says that all states and territories require child safety seats for infants and children fitting specific criteria, but requirements vary based on age, weight and height. Often, this happens in three stages: infants use rear-facing infant seats; toddlers use forward-facing child safety seats; and older children use booster seats. They offer an overview of state laws.

For help in buying and installing the right seat, we offer several dependable sources you can turn to for research:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Foundation has a great car seat and booster seat guide with various tools to guide you through every stage. A few of the handy tools they offer include:

Safe Kids Worldwide offers the ultimate Car Seat Guide , which offers practical tips to keep kids safe in cars from buying, installing, ensuring a safe fit, and when you should change the seat as your child ages. If you need help installing your car seat or would like a checkup to ensure that it is installed properly, Safe Kids coalitions have car seat checkup events and inspection stations around the country. If there isn’t an event near you, you can search for a certified child passenger safety technician (CPST) who can help you.

Consumer Reports also offers excellent Child Car Seat Ratings and Buying Guide, including the video below.

Wirecutter (from the New York Times) also offers consumer shopping guides to find the Best Infant Car Seat and the Best Booster Car Seats. 

Do traffic tickets jack up your car insurance rates? You bet they do!


traffic tickets - cop on a motorcycle seen through a driver's car mirror

Nobody wants to pay more than they must for auto insurance, but  when bad or risky driving leads to tickets, it can add big bucks to the amount you pay for insurance over several years. Danielle Ling has a story in PropertyCasualty360 about which moving violations raise your car insurance rates the most. Note that these are averages – in some states and with some insurers, costs can be much higher. And these are just the costliest violations. Ling says that even lesser offenses like speeding in a school zone can increase annual rates by more than $300.

Here are some of the costliest violations and the average annual increase

  • Hit & Run – $1,212
  • Racing – $1131
  • DUI – $1100
  • Refusing a breathalyzer – $1080
  • Driving with a suspended license – $1044
  • Reckless driving – $1,038

We’ve written about DUI violations in more detail – a highly dangerous behavior that can be very expensive:

Most states require you to report your DUI to your insurer. A DUI is considered a major violation, like reckless driving or hit-and-run. You will be required to get what’s called an SR-22, a form filed on your behalf by your insurance company which constitutes proof that you are carrying the required amount of liability insurance. It’s also a red flag that you are a high-risk driver. (In Virginia and Florida, the required form is called an FR-44.) There will be a filing fee, usually between $20-$50. Not all insurance companies will file an SR-22. Some insurance companies will not insure high risk drivers, so if yours does not file, you will likely need a new policy with a company that will file the form.

 

Depending on the state in which you live, you will be required to carry SR-22 insurance for three to five years.

After filing an SR-22, brace yourself: your insurance rates are going up. A recent study showed that on average insurance rates increased by more than 56% – a $1000 yearly rate would become $1560 after a first DUI offense.

 

In addition to requiring an SR-22, you may also be required to install (at your expense) an ignition interlock device. The cost to install these devices varies by jurisdiction, but is usually around $175-$300. These devices are basically breathalyzers attached to your vehicle’s starter. They won’t let the car start if they detect alcohol on your breath (the base limit of alcohol allowed varies between jurisdictions, but is almost always “none”). Also, at random times while the vehicle is in motion, the system will require another puff into the analyzer. This “rolling retest” is designed to prevent non-drivers from providing a breath sample and to prevent consumption of alcohol behind the wheel.

See more at our post: DUI Laws, Insurance Rates, and Interlock Devices

Good drivers may be eligible for discounts

It’s important to know that while risky and dangerous driving costs money on your insurance and may even risk suspension or termination of your driving privileges, safe driving can save you money.

Some states and some insurers offer discounts for safe driving or for driver training. In fact, there are a variety of discounts available for other reasons, too, although they vary by state and by insurer. We’ve rounded up many of the most common discounts – see our post Don’t leave money on the table : Talk to your agent about auto insurance discounts.

RMV license renewal extensions in New England


woman driver giving thumbs up

As you transition from lock-down to “real life” and take your car out of mothballs to put it back on the road, here’s an important question: did your license or registration inadvertently expire while you were watching Netflix? Is your vehicle inspection overdue? If you forgot to renew vehicle-related credentials or your credentials are about to expire, you may be relieved to know that many states have offered extensions. For example, the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles license renewal dates have been extended as follows:

  • Driver’s licenses and ID cards that expired or will expire in March, April, and May 2020, will now expire in September 2020.
  • Driver’s licenses and ID cards that will expire in June have been extended until October 2020.
  • Driver’s licenses and ID cards that will expire in July have been extended until November 2020.
  • Driver’s licenses and ID cards that will expire in August have been extended until December 2020.

Learn more about changes in procedures, office openings, and more at MA RMV – COVID-19 Information.

Here are links where you can find out how other New England states are handling vehicle related credentials:

  • Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles issued a 180-day Credentials Extension for expiring DMV credentials. The extension includes all Connecticut driver’s licenses, learner’s permits, identity cards, emissions testing and registrations. The extension is effective immediately. See complete list at CT DMV.
  • New Hampshire Division of Motor Vehicles issued a series of bulletins, including  Options for Customers During Covid-19 Pandemic; New NH DMV License and Registration Extension Options; and NH DMV Extends Expiration Date of Previously Issued 20-Day Plates.  Stay up to date at NH DMV.
  • Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles – all road tests are cancelled through June 5.  Driver licenses, learner permits, IDs, CLPs, CDLs, registrations, inspection stickers, and disability placards scheduled to expire in the months of March, April, or May 2020 have been extended by 90 days. Find general information and updates at RI DMV
  • Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles – On May 26, 2020 the Governor signed Executive Order 53-A, which means if a person can register normally through their municipality or Bureau of Motor Vehicle Office they must do so immediately. If your municipality is NOT accepting payments through Rapid Renewal, by mail, by telephone, or in the municipal office the notice of March 20, 2020 still stands. See Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles for details and updates.
  • Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles – On May 8, the DMV issued a Continuity of Operations Plan for Alternative Services.  For more information, see VT DMV.

See our recent post: Get that idle car back on the road in tip-top shape

 

Traffic is down, danger is up on the nation’s roadways


speeding car approaching a city
If you need to venture out on the roads, be sure to drive defensively! According to recent reports, many streets and highways have turned into a dangerous environment of deserted streets given over to drag racing and speeding competitions. With so many businesses shut down and people under a stay-at-home advisory during the coronavirus crisis, nationwide, traffic has dropped by  more than 40%, according to transportation-data firm Inrix. Some large metro highways report even higher drops of between 50% to 70%. But if you think less volume makes for safer roads, think again! Unfortunately, people seem to be driving much more recklessly.

According to a report in Agency Checklists, new data from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation shows that despite a 50% reduction in overall traffic on Massachusetts roads, fatalities doubled in number during April. But this troubling trend is not unique to Massachusetts. Standard Publishing talks about a report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA):

“State highway safety officials across the country are reporting a sharp spike in speeding incidents. Multiple states have reported speed increases, with Colorado, Indiana, Nebraska and Utah noting a significant surge in vehicles clocked at 100 mph or more.”

In addition to the increase in MA fatalities, Rhode Island and Nevada state officials report that pedestrian fatalities are increasing. Even before the recent reports, pedestrian fatalities have been creeping up over time and pedestrian deaths are now at their highest level since 1988.

The Washington Post cites both the GHSA report and law enforcement and traffic experts throughout the country, and the story is the same: speeders have taken over the roadways. In addition to drag racing and high-speed competitions, the post Post reports:

What’s more, those speeding drivers are also more distracted. A study released Thursday by the data analytics company Zendrive found motorists are braking harder and using their phones more while driving. The analysis of millions of miles of driving data based on smartphone sensors found speeding is up by 27 percent on average, while hard braking climbed 25 percent. Phone usage on the nation’s roadways steadily increased in the weeks following the stay-at-home guidelines, up by 38 percent in mid-April, according to the report.

The Post says that people may think they can get away with reckless driving because law enforcement have limited resources or have reallocated resources during the pandemic. And some psychologists think it may be for excitement to counter the boredom or as an emotional release.

Hopefully, this troubling trend is a shutdown anomaly that will ease as states begin gradually reopening. But if and when you need to be out on the roads – particularly the highways – be super alert, avoid distractions, wear your seat belt, and keep your own speed down!

 

Get that idle car back on the road in tip-top shape


car maintenance - man washing the tires

If you’re among the millions who have been hunkered down in your home to help flatten the coronavirus curve, your car probably hasn’t been getting too much use. But now as many states are beginning to reopen and ease restrictions on stay-at-home orders, it’s time to show your car a little love. And even though many restrictions may be lifted, it’s likely we’ll be seeing a “new normal” so you may still be keeping a little closer to home this year than in other summer seasons. If so, AAA offers some great tips for keeping your car maintained during a driving hiatus.

While a few of the tips might be well known – taking the car for a spin each week and keeping it clean and maintained – others may be things you would not think of unless you are accustomed to storing a car seasonally. Here’s one you might not think about – and it can happen even if your car is stored in a garage:

Depending where you park, there may be mice or other critters that want to call your vehicle home. These rodents can chew on wires and cause thousands of dollars of damage, make nests in your filters and cause other messes. I’ve even had one set up shop in my glove compartment! There are a variety of sprays and granules on the market to deter these animals. Some have the scent of a predator and others smell like mint — a scent rodents don’t like.

There are other good tips about lubricating locks and hinges, adding a gas stabilizer to your tank, and more.

Consumer Reports says that cars do not like to sit idle, and cite risks such as the battery losing charge, tires gaining flat spots, rubber components such as belts and wipers drying out, as well as the critter problem. They also have an excellent guide to Car Care and Maintenance During the Coronavirus Pandemic.

But don’t stop there – it’s time for a thorough spring maintenance. Whether you bring your car to a mechanic or are a do-it-yourselfer, here’s a spring car maintenance checklist:

  • Give your vehicle a good exterior cleaning, including a fresh wax.
  • Clean the interior thoroughly. To disinfect and deep-clean, consider a detailing or a steam cleaning.
  • Change your oil and oil filter.
  • Check and replenish fluids.
  • Inspect wiper blades and replace if needed. Refill your wiper fluid.
  • Test your battery.
  • Check and rotate your tires. Check the tire treads and pressure.
  • Check and clean your lights and mirrors.
  • Check filters, belts, hoses.
  • Check alignment and suspension.
  • Fix any winter body or windshield dings or damage.

And if you have a motorcycle, May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. Give your wheels a good checkup too – see our post on Motorcycle Mania: Your spring guide to insurance, safety, training, laws and more.