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How to Keep Your Kids Safe While Sleeping In Their Car Booster Seat

car seat safety for kids
sleep slump and the ridesafer
The sleep slump (and, yes, we stopped to reposition him).

Don’t let the sleep slump ruin car seat safety for your kids.

As parents we’ve all seen it, right? And we cringe at the sleep slump.

Are there car seat safety issues with the sleep slump?

While head slump looks might uncomfortable to us, children’s necks are more flexible than ours so for most kids, the head slump is a non-issue. They don’t wake up with a kink in their neck, like many parents would.

OK. What about safety issues?

When the children are small and still in a 5-point harness, the child is less likely to get so out of position as to be in increased danger. (Head slump can be problematic for newborns or children without adequate head control. For these children, you may be able to adjust the recline of the harness restraint to accommodate better neck positioning.)

most common car seat mistakesBut big kids fall asleep in the car too. As the child gets older, gets into a booster—or RideSafer as in this case—or even grown enough to be in the vehicle seat belt, what are parents to do?

In this particular case (pictured above), he was 8-years-old. He was 4’4″ tall. If we had left him in this position and gotten into a crash, he likely wouldn’t have fared well, especially in a side-impact as he is right next to the window sill and window.

How Can Kids Sleep Safely In Their Car Seat?

Sleeping in the car can be really uncomfortable but sometimes kids can’t help but succumb to exhaustion and the motion.

One solution to help these older children stay properly positioned in their RideSafer or booster or seat belt is to pull over and switch the seat belt over to automatic locking mode by pulling the shoulder belt all the way out, then letting it back into the seat belt retractor. (You should hear a ratcheting sound and the belt will stay locked instead of having slack in it.)

Note: Some booster seat manufacturers do not allow this and some car manufacturers do not allow this so be sure to read your manuals. The RideSafer manufacturer does allow locking the seat belt while using the vest, when necessary.

Most kids don’t want to ride like this all the time. And since a locked seat belt may potentially increase the risk of injury from submarining, we only suggest locking the seat belt on a child in a belt positioning device or seat belt as a last resort if the child cannot sit properly in the belt without it locked, such as when sleeping. An out of position child could be at greater risk of injury in a crash.

One thing we have done in the past, too, is to recline the rear vehicle seat just a touch. Of course only some cars offer this feature, but it sure is handy to at least reduce the head slump. However, if the vehicle seat recline is so much that the seat belt is no longer properly positioned, it can be dangerous in a crash (for a child or an adult) and is not recommended. If you are able, recline just about an inch so their head is more likely to stay leaning back rather than slumping forward while keeping the seat belt properly positioned on the child.

Are There Products That Make Sleeping In A Car Seat Safe For My Child?

There are some products out there to help keep the older “booster age” child sleep more comfortably and stay in position as well:

  • Cardiff —The manufacturer calls this the “booster seat headrest.” We like it with the RideSafer too (so much so we offer it on our site). It offers bigger kids (or even adult passengers) a place to rest their heads. It attaches to the vehicle head rest bars and the sides folds up and down and clicks into place. Our kids love the Cardiff headrest for long trips! (2021 update: Similar headrests are being sold now on Amazon. We cannot attest to other brands. Whereas, we have talked to the Cardiff owners about the crash testing they did.) car pillow
  • Amiba Monsters — These pillows were created by a 9-year-old and his mom to give support and something to hold while sleeping in the car. They are large pillows that rest on the lap and goes up to support the child’s head at the neck. They come in several colorful monster faces and shapes. Since they go on top of the harness straps or seat belt and don’t interfere with proper positioning, we find these acceptable. It’s like holding a stuffed animal but specially designed to support the child’s head. We haven’t had our kids try them so we cannot relay how well they work.

Note for parents with children still in a 5-point harness and looking to solve the head slump “problem”. There are companies making straps that attach to the car seat and are meant to keep the child’s head from slumping forward. Basically it’s like a headband that attaches to the car seat. They may seem like a good idea until you consider crash dynamics.

These bands or slings are not considered safe. During a crash, the child’s head would want to move forward with the crash energy and would likely force the child’s neck to bend back to release from the band, potentially tearing delicate ligaments. After releasing from the sling, the child’s head would continue going through the range of motions that it would have made had it not been caught up in the sling. Thus the head and neck would go through a greater range of motion, increasing the potential for spinal injury.

We want to know, what do you do when sleep slump happens? Share your comments below.

By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004

Copyright 2021 Safe Ride 4 Kids. All rights reserved. You may not publish, broadcast, rewrite or redistribute this material without permission. You are welcome to link to Safe Ride 4 Kids or share on social media.

We originally published this post in September 2014. We updated the article for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

8 comments

    1. Hi Kay, Toddlers heads don’t usually slump forward in rear facing seats. We suggest you check the angle of the rear facing seat if your child’s head is slumping forward.

  1. The picture on you site shows a child in a forward facing seat with a head Slumping. How can we prevent this?

    1. Hi Patty, The restraint shown is a RideSafer vest and in the article we offer a few prevention ideas. A child in a traditional forward-facing harness seat should have side support for their head when they fall asleep and some you can check if you can change the angle to have a lean back just a touch if it seems your child’s head is falling forward (check the car seat’s owners manual).

    1. Hi Ania, We would recommend not using it in a car seat or highback booster. Like other after market accessories, they haven’t been crash tested with the seat. We don’t know whether or not it will change anything about the performance of the seat. As for with the RideSafer, or a backless booster or just the seat belt, we don’t see that it would be an issue and could provide some comfort. Though certainly not with the neck pillow that comes with the RideSafer.

  2. What about reclining the back seats (if the car has that option) and let them take a nap, but with the normal seat belt on?

    1. Thank you I just added information about that to the post. First and foremost you want the seat belt to remain in proper position on the occupant’s body. Leaning the vehicle seat back too much would cause the seat belt to be out of position during a crash. If you can lean the seat back just a little to minimize the chance of head slump and the seat belt remains properly positioned, that should be OK. So it depends on the seat belt set up and the options for leaning the seat back. But nothing like reclining the rear seat down several inches or the front seat down to prone position or letting the child lay across the back seat. Those would all be dangerous in the event of a crash.

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