Tips for Keeping Children Safe During Holiday Travel

Planes, trains, automobiles . . . and kids

Last updated: December 18, 2015 08:00 AM
Photo: Eli Meir Kaplan/NHTSA

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No matter how far away you may be from family and friends during the holidays, it's likely children are at the top of everyone’s invite list. Likewise, winter break brings far away family getaways. Whatever the motivation to hit the road or skies, take time to plan your holiday travel to ensure the little ones are as content and safe as possible. Following these tips will help:

Stick With What You Know

We’ve had mixed experiences with our investigations into renting car seats from car rental agencies

But even in the best of cases, using a car seat that is unfamiliar to you can increase your odds for misuse and consequently reduce your child’s safety. Working with a familiar seat that is already adjusted to fit your child is a better and safer option. Plus, by using your own seat, you can save the often-significant seat rental fees. Admittedly you end up hefting your seat along, but child seats can typically be checked as baggage for free. Some manufacturers also make travel bags that protect the seat and make it easier to move. If you’ve purchased a ticket specifically for your child (as opposed to carrying them on your lap), be aware that they may be most comfortable and most “contained” by using their child seat on the plane, as well. Most are approved for airline use by the FAA but check the label to be sure. According to the FAA, most airplane seats should accommodate a child restraint that is no wider than 16 inches.

Check our car seat buying guide and Ratings. And use these other tips safe travel.

Know the Law

If you’re traveling across state lines via car and have a child at or near booster-seat age, you may want to take a minute to check the booster seats laws for any state you may be traveling to or crossing through. Booster seat laws vary state-by-state and range from as young as four years of age to as old as eight years old and for kids who weigh as much as 80 lbs. What may be legal in your state may not be in another. Regardless of what your state law says, most kids don’t fit the vehicle seat belts correctly until they reach about 4-foot-9 (57”) in height and are 8-12 years of age. Use our booster seat check list to see if your child is ready for a vehicle belt or not. 

Be Careful Packing Your Car

Chances are that holiday travel will not only require the typical amounts of “kid stuff” but also the addition of gifts and other holiday-related items. Take care in packing your car to put heavier items low in the load space, secured so that they can’t become a projectile during a crash or even in the event of emergency braking. Obviously, take special care for items closely surrounding your children. After packing the car, perform a quick check by moving slowly and giving your brakes a quick punch in your driveway or on a clear road, without traffic behind you. Does the load stay put? If so, you’re good to go.

Expect the Unexpected

Plan for the worst. If you’re traveling with kids, Murphy’s Law says your flight and train will be delayed or an accident on a major highway will lead to long hours in the car. Think ahead to packing additional snacks, games and other items, cell-phone charge cords, and pertinent contact information. Though most parents and caregivers do this anyway, take extra care to plan for the unexpected. If traveling by car and in cold climates, be sure to have cold-weather gear for everyone in the car. You just never know. (Learn what to pack in an emergency kit.)

But don't forget that wearing cold-weather outfits in a harnessed seat can compromise your child's crash protection.

Most of all, enjoy the wonder of the holidays through your children’s eyes and enjoy their company. Time passes all too quickly!

Jen Stockburger

Holiday gift ideas and tips

Check Consumer Reports' 2015 Holiday Guide for our picks of the best gifts, details on the latest deals, time-saving tips, and much more. And see our countdown calendar for top gift ideas for everyone on your list.

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