Only on the Web: Answers to your questions about boosters! See page 2.
Who Should Be in a Booster?
Most parents assume that once children outgrow their car safety seat—when they turn four and weigh more than 40 pounds—it's time for them to graduate to seat belts alone. It's not. The lap and shoulder belts in your back seat (kids 12 and under should never ride in the front) won't fit properly unless a child is in a booster seat. Yet recent studies have shown that only 16 percent of children ages four to eight use both seat belts and boosters—meaning that 16.5 million kids are riding dangerously.
Booster seats reduce a child's risk of injury in a crash by 59 percent compared with children who use seat belts only, according to Partners for Child Passenger Safety, a joint effort of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm Insurance. What's more, booster seats eliminate injuries to the abdomen, neck, spine, back, and lower extremities, whereas children protected by seat belts alone suffer injuries to all body regions.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that children stick with booster seats and lap and shoulder belts until they're at least four foot nine and weigh about 80 pounds. (For a wealth of data and advice, including new government ease-of-use ratings for all types of car seats, go to www.nhtsa.gov , or call 888/327-4236.) The American Medical Association would like to see states require boosters by law; currently only 19 do so. The cost of these seats ranges from $20 to $100—a small price to pay for a big boost in safety.
Hey Mom, Crank Up the Satellite!
It's time for families to invest in satellite radio—and tune in to a gargantuan schedule of music and talk shows. Clunky receivers that cost as much as $500 and required professional installation have given way to tiny plug-and-play models that run just $100 to $130 (plus $70 for a cradle powered by a car's cigarette lighter). But the real news for parents is the full menu of kid-friendly shows. Sirius (www.sirius.com ; $12.95 a month ), a largely commercial-free system, offers the "Kids Stuff" channel, with tongue-twister challenges and readings from Dr. Seuss in between tunes from the Wiggles.
The XM network (www.xmradio.com ; $9.99 a month ) has its own kids' channel, with songs, the Grant Paulsen Show (starring David Letterman's favorite fast-talking 13-year-old sportscaster), and TaleSpinners, in which celebrities read classic stories. With Robin Williams telling the story of Pecos Bill, you and your family will be in no particular hurry to get anywhere.
For some kids the culprit might be countless restaurant meals of chicken nuggets and fries. For others it could be dehydration from a hot climate—or simply too much sitting in the car. Whatever the reason, constipation is an extremely common road-trip malady, especially for children, according to Dr. Bradley A. Connor, medical director at Travel Health Services in New York. Symptoms include bloating and cramps—sometimes severe. "Constipation can mimic serious ailments like appendicitis," warns Connor, who has known parents to rush their child to the hospital because they didn't know what was causing the pain (how's that for a vacation memory?). To prevent such disasters, eat fiber-rich foods while on the road (look for fruit and bran cereal on the hotel's breakfast buffet and pack small boxes of raisins for an outing), drink plenty of fluids, and at rest stops start moving. Skip rope, fling a Frisbee, or practice those cartwheels.
Now Playing in the Back Seat
With drop-down movie screens and DVD players increasingly common new-car options, that VCR/TV combo you rigged up between the front seats a few years ago just isn't going to cut it anymore. The simplest way to upgrade, short of buying a new minivan: Pioneer's new, easy-to-install digital audiovisual packages. Our favorite includes an in-dash DVD player with a touch-screen display, satellite radio, and a 61/2-inch flat-screen monitor on a retractable arm that's mounted to a headrest. The screen has inputs for a GameCube or PlayStation 2 and dual headphone jacks. Best of all, it's detachable for under-the-seat storage—perfect for when you decide it's time the kids took a look out the window for a change. AV-SYS701RSE package from $2,000; installation will run about $200; www.pioneerelectronics.com ; 800/421-1404.
Fix Your Car, Fix the Planet
Got a flat?Let Better World Club help you—and the environment. Established a year ago, Better World (Portland, Ore.; 866/238-1134 or 503/546-1134; www.betterworldclub.com ) provides the same services as traditional auto clubs such as AAA (towing and locksmith assistance in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Canada; routine vehicle maintenance; trip planning and customized maps); competitive rates ($65 for a two-driver family); and free enrollment. But Better World, founded by a former president of Working Assets, does more: it donates 1 percent of its annual revenue to environmental cleanup efforts and offers members deals on everything from stays at top hotels and eco-lodges (a 25 percent discount at the Wyndham Rose Hall Resort & Country Club in Montego Bay, Jamaica; a $100 savings on the "eco floor" at the Hotel Triton in San Francisco) to rentals of hybrid cars. And since February, Better World has been sending technicians to rescue you and your bicycle, too. No word yet on coverage for tired young pedalers.