Traveling With Children in RVs
Aaaahhhh. Summer travel time, which includes family road trips and perhaps traveling with children in RVs.
From a child passenger safety perspective, the question falls to, are these kids using car seats? And if they are not, should they be?
There are three classes of RVs.
Class A are the largest type and look similar to buses. They are between 15,000 and 30,000 pounds and often have living areas that extend out when parked. This slide-out portions is part of the reason the RV Consumer Group (RVCG) say the Class A RVs have more structural problems. The RVCG believes that close to 50% of Class As will not sustain a collision at 20 miles per hour without serious damage. There is no rear occupant crash testing required for Class A RVs.
Class B is more like a built-out conventional van. They typically weigh between 6,000 and 8,000 pounds so they have to meet federal seat belt standards (FMVSS 208)for the front but not for the rear seat occupants. Class B RVs can require lap belt only seat belts in the back seating if it carries a chassis-mount camper that weigh between 8,500 lbs and 10,000 lbs.
Class C RVs are more like a moving truck. These weigh between 10,000 and 12,000 pounds and are built on a van or truck chassis. But they come with the front cab from the vehicle manufacturer so the cab still has those safety features. Class C also have to meet federal seat belt standards for the front seating positions but not the rear.
When traveling with children in RVs, do they have to be restrained?
RVs are exempt from state car seat laws in some states like Colorado. Several state laws require seat belt use for the front seats only. There are 22 states that say all occupants, including children, must wear a seat belt. And 26 states have RV seat belt requirements based on the age of the child. You’ll want to look up the law for RV travel specifically for your state and the state’s you’ll be traveling to.
Legal or not, it is recommended to properly restrain your child in a child restraint in a forward facing vehicle seat with a crash rated seat belt.
People may be lulled into a false sense of security because of the size of an RV and how bigger vehicles tend to withstand crashes better. But bigger is not necessarily safer with RVs. For instance, the structural soundness of an RV may be questionable in a crash because of design features like galley slide-outs. Often the rear compartment is built on a wood or aluminum frame and could be crushed in an impact or rollover. Also in Class A RVs, while the front seat belts need to meet federal standards, the front compartment itself does not have to meet any crash standards and may not be crash tested.
Some RVs do not have an adequate number of seat belts for the number of occupants. Some of those that do have rear occupant seat belts at best have lap-only belts. Sometimes the seat belts are in side-facing or rear-facing seats, which should never be used to install a car seat.
The trouble is, of course, RVs get into crashes too.
There is great risk in these crashes with the lack of proper ways to restrain occupants, especially children, and lack of places to even put a car seat safely facing the correct direction.
If a car seat is restrained in the rear compartment, a big risk is the wooden seat structure it’s belted to and cabinets can come apart during a crash, increasing the risk of injury or death. Then these structures — and kitchen equipment, and mounted TVs, and decorations, and… — become projectiles. There is serious injury risk to all the passengers.
So how do you travel safely?
If you do plan to be traveling with children in RVs, here are some tips:
- Properly buckle your children in a car seat every time you are driving. In order to do this:
- OK: Check in the cab of the RV for seating positions that are appropriate for installing car seats. Smaller Class B and C RVs that are built on a regular van/truck chassis must meet the same safety standards as passenger vehicles for the front. They may be likely to have the features needed for car seat installations. Perhaps they have or can install a custom seat like a captain’s chair in the rear compartment with a seat belt that meets standards. Just like you can’t mix and match car seat parts between models or manufacturers, these must be ordered through the manufacturer of the RV. Make sure the whatever seat is used in the vehicle, it is facing forward so you can install the car seat properly. While we don’t typically recommend the front seat for children, in the case of an RV it may end up being the only safe seat belt to use for a child restraint. (Of course it will only work for a rear-facing car seat if there is no airbag or a way to turn off the airbag.) Remember, even when using proper seat belts, passengers are still at risk of cabinets, kitchen equipment and storage supplies becoming projectiles.
- Good: Use a towable RV (fifth wheeler, trailer, truck camper) where children can ride properly restrained in the towing vehicle. Make sure the driver is experienced with towing a trailer. There are inherent dangers in towing a trailer.
- Best: If you were planning to tow a car, consider driving it instead. This way your children are in their car seats in this vehicle instead of in the RV.
- Make sure all other occupants remain properly buckled also.
Car Seat Options
A RideSafer Travel Vest may be a viable option for keeping a child properly restrained in an RV.
As with most things, the answer to if it will work for you is, it depends.
If there is a structurally sound lap-shoulder belt or lap-only belt and a tether anchor in a forward facing vehicle seat, the RideSafer should work. If there is a adequate position that has a lap-only belt and there is a way to affix an Energy Absorbing Tether Anchor Loop (EATAL) somewhere that anchors to the RV, the RideSafer should work.
We want to know, do you plan to be traveling with children in RVs this summer? Share your comments below.
By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004
Copyright 2018 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 May 2016. We updated it for accuracy and comprehensiveness.