Traveling With Children in RVs - Safe Ride 4 Kids

Traveling With Children in RVs

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.

RideSafer Travel Vest safe booster seat alternativePeople 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.  

 

© monkeybusiness | depositphotos
26 Comments
  • Cathy M. N.
    Posted at 06:23h, 27 August Reply

    I am just sick reading up on seat belt safety in a class A motorhome! We have a 4 yr old….where treo safely place his carseat.. ….why aren’t rear seatbelts required to have national safety standards on them!? Make a law and the allow manufacturers to just place the belts basically for ‘decoration’!!

    • Amie
      Posted at 12:00h, 27 August Reply

      It is rather disheartening.

  • Jennifer Perry
    Posted at 17:05h, 29 August Reply

    So considering a vest and eata loop (as there are no anchors in the RV that i have found) to secure my 3 year old in the class c RV. The couch is directly behind the driver’s seat, so I feel like that would be the best option for placing him and would provide the best protection in a crash due to its proximity to the cab. Thoughts?

    • Amie
      Posted at 12:30h, 30 August Reply

      Hi Jennifer, Ideally when you sit a child in the RV using a child restraint, the child needs to be in a forward facing seat, meaning the seat – or couch as the case may be – needs to be facing toward the windshield. My assumption would be the couch is facing the side. This is not ideal. Are there seat belts available on the couch and if so what are they connected to? If this is the only location to sit a child in the rear compartment, you may consider putting your 3 year old in the RideSafer in the front passenger seat while driving. While also not ideal, it may be the safest option available. You may also want to visit with a local CPS technician in your RV so that person can see inside the RV and consider if there are other options.

  • Taylor Bishop
    Posted at 10:24h, 14 September Reply

    Thanks for these tips for traveling with children in an RV. It’s good to know that you should try to have a towable RV so the children can ride properly in the towing vehicle. This sounds especially important if they are very young and you don’t want them to hurt themselves accidentally in a RV.

  • Hollie Sandlin
    Posted at 15:05h, 27 October Reply

    We just rented a Mercedes Sprinter RV for touring NZ. How do I find out if there are tether hooks in this RV. Is there a list somewhere of the RV models with tether hooks?

    • Amie
      Posted at 12:39h, 28 October Reply

      Hi Hollie, There should be information about tether locations in the Mercedes Sprinter owner’s manual.

  • Kate
    Posted at 19:24h, 06 November Reply

    Thanks so much for this article. We are looking at buying a Class C but have a 6 year old and 3 year old. Both still use a 5 point harness in the car, simply because they each still fit and haven’t complained.
    I was looking for booster seat options in an RV but now am second guessing our plan. We would really like the Class C lifestyle, but a travel trailer may be better for the next couple of years.
    The idea of the vest is intriguing but I’m not sure how my 6 year old would react to it and I am not comfortable with my 3 year old riding up front.

    • Amie
      Posted at 22:02h, 06 November Reply

      You’re welcome. Let us know if you have any questions along the way.

  • Stephen
    Posted at 05:40h, 15 February Reply

    I read a post from an RV forum online where the poster was a certified child safety seat technician. He is also a motorized RV owner and he has more than one child who rides in the RV while traveling as a family. Some of his children ride side facing in a car seat! What I found interesting is that he mentioned that while the ideal circumstances is not always present in an RV motorhome (forward facing seat, bolted to the floor, lap and shoulder belts, and the like), one should still use a car seat. Even if a car seat is installed in a rear or side facing seat, it will still provide additional protection (although slightly less than in an ideally configured seating configuration) for the child than if no car seat is used. Plus there are some higher end car seats that are side impact rated that will provide the full level of protection in a side impact crash (or protect someone in a side facing seat in a front or rear impact crash,and some do exist that are certified for use in rear or side facing seats although you are not likely to find them at Walmart or Target, as they are rare but can be ordered from manufacturers. RVs are also bigger and move slower which is also safer for children and it takes a lot more force to turn one over as they are heavier. This is similar to how buses protect passengers.

    The last thing I read is that the state laws vary as opposed to car seats in RVs. It has to do with the weight of the vehicle and how the state classifes RVs as if the child restraint laws apply and to what seats.

    • Amie
      Posted at 13:45h, 17 February Reply

      We do talk about the various laws etc in the blog above. As for car seats that are allowed to be used in a side or even rear facing vehicle seat, did this person offer examples. Car seats are not crash tested in this configuration and it’s not part of certification so no car seats are allowed to be used in a side or rear facing vehicle seat configuration. I (a CPS technician since 2004) conferred with three instructors of the child passenger safety technician program just to be sure. And all three said there are no seats (cheap or higher end) that allow for such a configuration. We are happy to look at links if you and/or he can provide them.

      While a car seat in an RV not using a FMVSS 208 certified seat belt or a front facing vehicle seat, may offer some protection over not using any car seat, none would offer the “full level of protection”. Plus you still have to consider the projectiles involved a RV crash.

  • Becky Gibilisco
    Posted at 19:59h, 10 March Reply

    Just posting this for others to see what we did in our class A RV (I have pictures too if there is a way to share them). We took the couch out from behind the driver’s seat, bought a 2 seater van bench, bolted it to the frame of the RV, and have 2 forward facing car seats for our 2 young kids.

    • Angela Pearce
      Posted at 11:33h, 03 September Reply

      That’s a brilliant idea. Would love to see some pics

  • Stephen
    Posted at 07:04h, 11 March Reply

    It might be interesting to do a crash test experiment with dummies in an RV and see exactly how much more protection (compared to no car seat) one has in some non-ideal circumstances. For example:

    * Class A RV with a Bench Seat not bolted to the floor
    * Class A RV with a side facing chair
    * Class C RV at the Dinette
    * Class A V in a Rear Facing Seat

    In addition, the “User ScottyDL” on RVForum.net (Search for his posts) that I described earlier mentioned that the term to search for seats that perform well in side crashes is “Side Impact Rated”. He mentioned this because if a seat is rated for side impact crashes, that when turned sideways (as in attached to a side facing seat), a child passenger front or rear impact collision will get the correct level of protection from the seat turned that way, at least in theory.

    BTW, the seats have changed since I was a kid. I cannot believe I survived the following when I was younger:

    * Rode in the front seat while I was still in elementary school (in fact on mountain roads it actually reduced by motion sickness) and my height was far less than 57 inches back then when I did it.

    * Riding in cars with lap belts only in the back (also common back then).

    * Was out of a booster seat long before I was in middle school.

    * Rode in rear facing jump seats as a kid while I was in second grade,

    * Rode with a teen driver their first year of licensing to/from school many days (back before graduated licensing was law) while I was in high school.

    * Rode on mom’s lap sometimes as a little boy

    * Rode in the back of a pickup (before it was banned)

    Almost all of us are still alive in our class today at our 20 year high school reunion! Did we just get lucky?

    • Amie
      Posted at 11:35h, 11 March Reply

      That is an important distinction — “at least in theory.” Car seats are not crash tested for use in a side seat. The impact of a frontal or rear crash may have different crash dynamics on a car seat sitting sideways than a side impact does on a car seat facing the front.

      In a sense, yes, we all were lucky that we survived a childhood riding in cars the way many of us adults did. And things have changed that also affect driving safety now compared to then such as the higher number of cars on the road, higher speeds, higher average number of miles driven and cell phones increasing the number of distractions.

  • Martine Wielath
    Posted at 14:00h, 30 March Reply

    Thank you for all your information yet I am still not sure what to do if the Camper Van we want to use will be safe for our 3 month old. The seating options look like this, driver and passenger seats, and a bench seat in the very back of the 20 footer van that turns into a bed….

    Should I be sitting in the back and have the baby in the passenger seat while my partner drives?

    Also in our truck none of the seats on either bench have the 2 metal clips where the car seat gets belted onto for extra hold and then use the seat belt.. so is that safe to use for the baby and car seat in the truck?

    • Amie
      Posted at 13:17h, 31 March Reply

      Hi Martine, Greg emailed you our phone number so he can find out more specifics about the camper to better answer your question. As for using LATCH, it sounds like you are asking to use both LATCH and the seat belt to install the car seat. Only two car seats on the market currently allow you to do that. All other car seats do not allow you to use both LATCH and the seat belt. You need to pick one or the other. Read the car seat manual to see what it specifically says about using LATCH.

  • Stefanie Coleman
    Posted at 10:57h, 21 April Reply

    So, we have a class c with tethers in the dinette, forward facing. Do I remove all the cushions, lower the table, and then install the car seat? Do I leave the car seat on top of the dinette cushions and have a cushion behind the car seat? I’d think dismantle the dinette down to a bed with no cushions, but I’m not sure.
    We have a Sunseeker 3270s.

    • Amie
      Posted at 14:43h, 22 April Reply

      Since it’s not a crash-tested install, we don’t have definite answers to how to install properly in an RV. We would recommend putting the table down to limit what is in front of the child if there is a crash. As for the cushions it’s hard to say. How thick are they? Do they slide off at a sudden stop or are they attached somehow? Can you get a good install with the cushions or do you get a better car seat install without the cushions? Does the RV manufacturer have any recommendations, after all they put in tether anchors?

  • Mario Nguyen
    Posted at 12:49h, 02 May Reply

    Hi,
    I am new to this site and want to thank you for the great work you are doing. I was right in the midst of securing an RV with a deposit to secure specific dates until I started looking at little closer at the RV industry safety standards for children. I only came upon your site very recently.
    I have to say that I am utterly shocked and at a loss that, given the multitude of reasons I’ve read so far, that there are isn’t gov’t sanctioned prohibition in place for having kids travel in drive-able RVs (especially the ‘payload’ area). Or, in a worst-case scenario, that child seat safety restraints (seatbelt anchors & tether anchors fastened to vehicle structure, not wood seating, etc) is not required by law in forward-facing configuration. For all these reasons and more (such as projectile potential), Even after-market hardware installation should be certified by an agency within the Ministry of Transportation of any given province or state. I’ve decided to rent a large size passenger Van with all the appropriate safety requirements. Sorry for the long text. Keep up the good work…

    • Amie
      Posted at 13:00h, 02 May Reply

      Thank you.

  • Reimar Strallhofer
    Posted at 07:12h, 13 May Reply

    Dear Amie! We a family of 5, (3 children at a age of 1,4 and 6) are goingt to travel with a RV from San Francisco to Seattle in the End of May, beginning of June. We are coming from Austria and I have now studied several homepages and legal sites but I am still confused about the legal requirements. I know that it is not perfectly safe or the best way to have them in the rear of the RV. We are renting an 28-30″ RV and as far as I found out there is one seat at the dinette where a top tether anchor is available. This is the seat forward facing. So for me it would be be logical to put my youngest on this seat, with a rear facing child seat. My 2 other kids, age 4, and 6 would then be sitting on the opposite side of the table facing rearward in a child seat (booster seat with harness, behind the driver seat) On all of these seats only lap belts are available. Disadvantage is that my youngest will then face rearward and have no eyecontact with the rest of the family, so my idea was to but him on the rearfacing seat behind the driver seat and the 2 older ones forward facing on the opposite side of the table. Then the older ones could have an eye on my youngest one and I hope all regulations would then be met.. Is this correct? We are travelling through California, Oregon and Washington state.

    • Amie
      Posted at 11:27h, 13 May Reply

      Hi Reimar, Placing a rear-facing car seat on a rear-facing vehicle seat means the child would be facing the front of the vehicle. This is certainly not ideal. A rear-facing car seat should be on forward-facing vehicle seat so the child can take advantage of the safety benefits of being rear facing. You said the other two children are in booster seats. Booster seats cannot be used with a lap-only belt. If you meant a 5-point harness seat you can install that with a lap-only belt however it still against car seat manufacturer usage to use those seats in a rear-facing vehicle seat.

      RVs do not appear to be exempt from California’s, Oregon’s or Washington’s car seat law requirements. Meaning all children legally must be properly restrained. Properly restrained means in a proper child restraint on a forward-facing vehicle seat. You could put one child in the front seat if there is no airbag but even then one child would remain improperly restrained. Will they ticket you if you get pulled over? Hard to say for sure but they could.

      Since this is not an ideal situation for the safety of your children, you will have to decide how to do the best you can with what you have once you are in the RV and see what is available.

  • Sarah Thornton
    Posted at 02:38h, 06 June Reply

    Thank you for this blog.
    I am wondering about forward facing vs. rear facing. The recommendation to keep kiddos rear facing in cars has moved up to 2 yrs or longer.

    Wanting to take our 18 month old in a Class C.

    Side seating on a sofa seems like a bad idea bc the car seat wasn’t meant for sideways.

    Install the car seat to face the rear of the RV in the dinette?

    • Amie
      Posted at 07:37h, 06 June Reply

      Hi Sarah, Right no car seat should not be place on a side facing vehicle seat. Car seats need to be placed on a forward-facing vehicle seat.

      So is the dinette the right place? Is the seat belt on the dinette rated for safety? Is it connected to the frame of the RV or just the wood of the dinette?
      Or do we consider the front passenger seat which does have a safety rated seat belt? But is there a front-passenger airbag? If so, can the airbag be turned off?

      Perhaps neither location is the ideal setup for a car seat, in which case you have to choose the best available after answering those questions.

  • Sarah Thornton
    Posted at 10:53h, 06 June Reply

    Thank you.
    I am going to check 1. If forward facing dinette seat’s seat belts are rated for safety and connected to the RV frame.
    If yes to both,, I think I feel comfortable installing the car seat facing the rear of the RV in the forward facing dinette seat.
    If no, there’s always next year ;)
    Thanks again for helping narrow down the right issues to consider.

Post A Comment