Safe and sound car travel

Whether transporting babies, older children or both, parents can often feel like they’re in the car more than out of it. Here are ways to make driving with little ones safe and pleasant.

Car travel safety tips:

  • Never let your baby ride in your arms while the car is moving. Avoid the temptation to keep your baby in your lap because “we’re only traveling a few blocks. “Remember, most accidents happen within a mile of your home.
  • Watch for little fingers. Finger injuries often occur when parents close the door without paying attention to where a child’s hand is. Get in the habit of pausing before you close any car door and checking where little hands and fingers are.
  • Do not leave the rear door of a hatchback or station wagon open. This lets in exhaust fumes in while parked, and dangerous objects may come through the open door in a crash.
  • Do not allow children to play with sharp objects, such as pencils or metal toys, while the car is moving. These objects become projectiles if a car stops suddenly.

Make it comfortable!

A long car ride with an unhappy baby is no fun. Tiny tummies are especially prone to motion sickness during car travel. Here are some tips to keep your baby content and little stomachs settled:

  • Plan ahead. Travel at naptime. Sleep can settle queasy stomachs. And, as an added bonus, you arrive at your destination with a happy and well-rested child.
  • Tank up your baby. Feed and change your baby/toddler before the trip. A child with dry pants and a full belly is a more pleasant passenger.
  • Provide a seat with a view. Children can get carsick if they can’t see out the window, but don’t compromise safety for a view. The middle of the backseat on a booster is the safest place for an older child to ride. Use a government-approved booster seat, preferably one that’s high enough for your child to see out the window. The more the child looks outside the car, the less likely nausea is.
  • Provide fresh air. Fresh air is a carsick baby’s best friend. Open a window on each side of the car for cross ventilation. Avoid substances such as strong perfumes that pollute the air inside — and, of course, never allow cigarette smoke in the car.
  • Make frequent pit stops. Treat travel like infant feeding: short, frequent trips rather than lengthy ones. When driving long distances, make frequent pit stops to allow your child to “get the wiggles out.”  
  • Plan a straighter route. When possible, use straight roads and freeways. Winding roads and frequent stops and starts are more likely to cause carsickness.

Make it fun!

  • Take along fun music and toys. Keep favorite CDs just for travel and add an occasional new surprise. Keeping little ears focused on catchy tunes will keep their minds off any boredom or discomfort. Also, bring along some fun and exciting new toys.
  • Pack healthy and safe snacks. Take along some stomach-friendly snacks, such as homemade cookies and a cool drink. Do not allow the little rider to suck on anything with a stick, like a lollipop or popsicle. A swerve or an accident could jam the stick down the child’s throat.
  • Keep up the chatter. If you can keep your eyes and mind on the road while at the same time engaging your child, the trip will be more pleasant for both of you. Keep chatting with your child in a way that invites her responses. A happy, occupied child means fewer whiny demands for stops.
  • Play games. Playing a mind-engaging game, such as asking questions that require concentration, also keeps your child occupied. Try games that keep your little passenger focused on objects far away, like billboards, buildings and mountains. Focusing on attractions farther away is usually more tummy-friendly than close-up coloring books.

Winter coat caution

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that coats should not be worn underneath the harness of a car seat. A bulky coat under a seat harness can result in the harness being too loose to be effective during an accident.

Use these steps to ensure infants and toddlers are safe and warm in their seats:

Remove the coat. After the child is secured in their seat, turn the coat around and put it     on backward with their arms through the arm holes with the back of the coat acting as a blanket.

Pinch the straps of the harness near your child’s

collarbone. If you can fold it in half, it is too loose.

Use an extra blanket to help keep them warm.


Choose the right car seat


Rear-facing Car Seat

Birth – 3 years

Up to 40 lbs.


Forward-facing Car Seat

3 years

Up to 80 lbs.


Booster Seat

4  – 12 years

Up to 120 lbs.


Seat Belt

13 and older*


If you’re not confident about how to properly secure your child in

a safety seat, contact the manufacturer or visit to find a certified child passenger safety technician who can help you.

*All children younger than 13 should ride in the back seat regardless of weight.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics, ages and weights may vary by manufacturer

Bill Sears, M.D., is a father of eight and the author of 42 books on family health, including The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood. A practicing pediatrician for over 40 years, he is an Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine. Dr. Sears is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and a fellow of the Royal College of Pediatricians (RCP).