Sometimes, the car can feel like a second home. Between commutes, driving the kids to and from school and activities and taking the occasional road trip, it's easy to let the car get messy and forget about the dangers of driving through our daily routines.
To help folks remember the pinnacles of car safety and to brush up on tips for staying organized on the road, TODAY spoke to Tricia Morrow, a mom of two and global safety engineer at General Motors.
"As both a safety engineer, keeping people safer on the road, but also as a mom, I never turn that passion for safety off," Morrow told TODAY. "I always have my children on the top of my mind. And the scariest thing, is that the number one death of children is car crash."
Morrow, who has a third grader still in a booster seat and a teenage driver, is about as prepared as it gets when it comes to buckling up and hitting the road. She helps design cars, like the Buick Enclave, that have cameras with surround vision to help see everything around the vehicle, lane change and collision alerts to help protect against potential accidents and filters to keep the air in the car as clean as possible for little lungs.
But no matter what car you drive, there are many things people and parents can do to make life on the road better.
Before driving — especially if it's a long commute or road trip — Morrow said to be sure to have everything prepared. If you enjoy music, be sure to have a playlist or station already set and connected to the Bluetooth or choose an audio book to listen to. Whichever you choose, be sure to set it up before you leave so you're never fumbling with the radio or phone.
Secure items and keep the car clean
Preparedness also factors into deciding what items to bring in the car.
"It's important as caregiver to sit down and think about what kids need. This is two-prong and should consider safety and fun," Morrow told TODAY. She also mentioned many people don't realize that securing packed items in the car is a priority. "You don't want anything to become a projectile."
Place snacks and waters where passengers can easily reach them so the driver doesn't have to reach around. Rather than having piles of toys, iPads, extra clothes and purses laying all around the car, use an organizational cubby that straps to a part of the car. It will help keep things in place.
This organizer doubles as a cooler and attaches with a seatbelt so things won't go flying should the car halt suddenly. It also has a lid and plenty of pockets on the outside for easy access.
Ensure empty bottles and trash don't litter the floor. It will keep you tidy, sane and safe. This one has an adjustable strap that attaches to the center console.
Whether you need to keep files, products for work or diapers and a change of clothes in the trunk of your car, this collapsible organizer will stay snug in the trunk so things aren't rolling around as a distraction.
Have young kids? Be smart about car seats
While driving the speed limit is one of the most crucial ways to keep the family safe while driving, Morrow said knowing the proper protocol for car seats is also key.
First, be sure to remove any jackets. Morrow told TODAY a very thin one, such as a rain jacket, is OK but any clothes item with heavier padding needs to be removed. Next, ensure car seat straps are tight. Morrow advised only having one or two adult fingers between the child's clavicle bone and the strap is a good way to test if it's secure enough.
With an alarming number of children dying after being left in cars, some car seat companies are starting to take steps that could help prevent the tragedy.
Certain car seats known as "smart car seats" actually have alarms and notifications, like this one from Cybex.
While Morrow didn't explicitly recommend this one, I personally have and love this model. I've owned five different car seats and this is my favorite. It connects to an app on my and my husband's phone and also to a small device you install in the area of driver's seat. The device sounds an alarm (more like a song than an alarm, I'd say) when the car stops as a reminder that your child is still in the seat. It also triggers alerts on the phone if they've been left in the seat, if they unbuckle themselves (while you're driving for example) or if their temperature gets too high or low.
It costs a little more than a typical car seat, but in my experience the price is definitely worth the peace of mind.
Editors Note: As with any decision parents make regarding the safety of their children, we advise using this personal account as just one part of the research around finding the right car seat for your family.