As I wrote previously, both my husband’s parents and my parents live across the country from us. We really wanted to spend some extra time with them, since multiple of them have serious health considerations and also cannot travel during the current pandemic. So we started looking into RVing as an option, but were really concerned about the safety of car seats in RVs.
So we started doing some digging to see if we could find a solution that was, first and foremost, SAFE. It goes without saying that we love our kids and do not want to put them at risk. We tend to be pretty conservative with car seat usage in our daily lives. We extended rear face our children (until 3.5/4), and keep our children harnessed until they outgrow their seat’s limit. Of course, we wanted to maintain that same level of protection in an RV.
Info On Car Seats in RVs
Below, I’ve detailed the following:
- our minimum requirements for our particular RV,
- general RVing with kids safety information we gathered from our research and from multiple child passenger safety technicians (CPSTs), and
- safety info specific to car seats in RVs.
Please keep in mind that this is NOT professional safety advice. The Manufacturers Alliance for Child Passenger Safety (MACPS) stated that it recommends that families “choose a non-motorized tow-able RV, so that children can be restrained properly in the passenger vehicle that is towing the RV.” (You can read the entire statement here.) However, based on our particular RV configuration and the safety precautions we put in place, we felt we could safely proceed. I always find it helpful hearing what real families have done with a measured and practical, real-life analysis. I hope it helps you, too!
Our RV Requirements for Installing Car Seats in RVs
Every RV and RV manufacturer varies a bit as far as specs and features. As we were purchasing a used RV, we were able to find out the features for that specific vehicle, rather than just the general info for the model. Here were our minimum requirements for any used RV purchase:
- Pull test – we needed all forward facing seats to be pull tested to ensure they could manage the load on the belt.
- All seat belts anchored to metal, not just to the wood floor. If the belts are anchored to wood, they may not be structurally sound and may not bear load in the event of a crash.
- Locking lap belts in every seat.
- No slide outs, as they make the entire vehicle less structurally sound in the event of a crash.
- Preferably at least a couple of anchor points for forward-facing car seats.
We did some digging and discussed with both the seller (the Cruise America folks, who had also managed the vehicle for the last 4 years), as well as with the manufacturer directly (Thor). Both confirmed that our RV met all of these requirements, including having anchor points on the two forward-facing seats in the back.
We also learned that all of the seats were installed exactly the same, even if the rear- and side-facing seats weren’t pull tested. Of course, the impact differs on a side or rear-facing seat, but it at least gave us some idea of the seats that were installed.
RV Safety with Kids: Our Precautions to RV with Kids
When I started my conversations with the CPSTs, I was pretty unsure about whether taking an RV with car seats would work and be safe. Because of this, I told them right away that they should tell me if they thought we should just avoid putting car seats in an RV altogether. I was 100% open to that feedback. However, none of them thought it was unsafe or that we should avoid going. Because of this, I felt confident in proceeding.
General RV Safety Info From CPSTs
The various CPSTs brought up the following points:
- We’re starting at a baseline of concern for our kids just by demonstrating interest and commitment to safety.
- One of the CPSTs, who is a former EMT, noted that most accidents can be avoided through defensive driving.
- RVs are some of the biggest vehicles on the road, so it’s more likely that others will see us, and is also safer in the event of a crash.
- RVs statistically have a much lower rate of being involved in a crash than a passenger vehicle.
- Federal standard seat and belt testing is incredibly important. They do, however, only show the testing, not necessarily what is safe. The manufacturer had installed the other, identical seats in the exact same way as the pull tested seats. This made us feel more comfortable with those.
Personal RV Safety Rules
To feel more comfortable and confident, we also formed a few rules for ourselves regarding safely RVing with car seats:
- Never drive over 65 miles per hour.
- Avoid driving at night as much as possible.
- Avoid city driving when possible, as it tends to lend itself to far more accidents than highway driving.
- And, of course, always have every person buckled into their respective seats while the vehicle is moving.
- Every child should use the child most protective/conservative child restraint for their weight and height.
- Never place any heavy items in top cabinets, which could come open during movement. Also, place nothing at all in the cabinets above the baby. We also installed baby locks on cabinet doors as an added precaution against them flying open and lightweight things going flying.
- Never have any other passengers in the RV putting additional load on the seats.
- Always having the adults buckled into the two front seats (driver and passenger) with lap and shoulder belts. Lap belts are not sufficient for anyone, including adults. Additionally, an improperly restrained adult in the back could land on a child in the event of a crash.
Safety Info on Installing Car Seats in RVs
The CPSTs also provided some information specific to installing car seats in RVs:
- I’d originally considered putting the two youngest children in the forward-facing seats that had been pull-tested. However, I realized the two forward-facing seats were also the ones that had the anchor points to tether a forward-facing car seat. In discussing with the CPSTs, every one of them recommended putting the two heaviest forward-facing children in these two seats to use the built-in anchor points.
- One CPST pointed out that whenever possible, he suggests putting younger children closer to the middle. This is true in a passenger vehicle or an RV. However, this wasn’t absolutely essential and sometimes there are tradeoffs based on the vehicle configuration/number of children.
- The rear-facing car seats have side-impact protection, and only require a lap belt for installation. Because of this, they recommended putting the two rear-facing children on side-facing seats with a lap-only seat belt.
- The main goal is to keep everyone inside the vehicle.
- The trickiest child restraint was for our 9 year old, who had outgrown a traditional car seat with a 65 lb weight limit. However, he still needed something that could work with a lap-only belt, so a booster wouldn’t work. We needed to find something that had a top tether but was appropriate for his age/weight/height.
- All forward-facing car seats should have a top tether. This is to prevent them from flying forward in the event of a crash.
- All seats needed a snug installation both with the lap belt and a top tether when applicable. To do this, we needed to evaluate the cushion on the seat.
Which Seats & Configuration We Chose for Our Car Seats in an RV
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