carseats in RVs (or, death-baiting)

As I’ve mentioned many times here on sounds familiar, our family is going on massive, cross-country RV odyssey this summer.

As this hopefully amazing trip nears, I’ve been putting the final touches on all manner of planning.  One thing which I wanted to make sure I got right was the question of what we do with little Cohen on the long journey.  He’ll be about eleven months old, and therefore will need to travel in a carseat.  Not knowing where best to install a carseat in an RV, I hit-up Google for some advice.  I was at first a bit dismayed that there didn’t seem to be all that much information out there.

Then I remembered that most sane people wouldn’t choose to drive a baby eight-thousand miles around the USA in an RV and so realized that this lack of information kind of made sense.  I would have to break out my Google kung-fu and find the deep links, search some RV-centric forums, maybe even some carseat-centric ones (yes, there are plenty of both – if it exists, the internet has a forum, or fetish, or both, for it).  After my initial dismay, however, my reaction changed a bit when I actually found some discussion…

Did you know there are carseat nazis?  Well, there are.

Look, before we get started here – I’m not attempting, in any way, to minimize the need for, or obvious safety benefits of, carseats for children and infants.  That would be stupid.  Carseats are great and I’m all for laws compelling their usage.  I am no scofflaw or negligent parent, and neither is my wife – who cut our daughter’s grapes into quarters until she was well past two years old.  I’ll also try to not be too derisive here towards those folks who have made carseat science their religion of choice.

Anyway, there are carseat nazis.

My search above eventually led me to what looked like a series of relevant threads on a carseat forum.  Unfortunately, germane as those threads may be, they were all nearly universally saying there is simply no safe way to transport a baby (or child, by extension) in an RV.  Most of the respondents, in fact, were quite quick to demonize anyone who asked about it or suggested doing so.  Take for example some of the following responses to variations of the question, “What do I do about carseats in RVs?” (all typos left intact, for extra derision):

No way Jose!! That’s asking for a multiple funeral. Car seats cannot be installed on side-facing vehicle seats – RV seats are not crash tested at all.

I would never use the dinette seats. Ever. Safe use requires a chassis-bolted seat belt in a forward-facing seat and most RV seats are only afixed to plywood in the flooring.

There are just so many risks with RVs (top heavy leads to easy roll over, countless projectiles including other passengers, etc.) that my child will never ride in one.  An unrestrained 100lbs person (or someone whose belt is not boldet to the core frame) becomes about 3000lbs of force upon your child in a 30 MPH crash.

RV’s are underpowered and are a nuisciance pest to our highways, due to there slow speeds, difficulty to pass, and lack of driver training required to opperate.

We’d love to RV some day, but we’d never consider putting the kids in a motorized RV – eek, the risks.

Loose or larger items typically transported in RVs during a trip can become deadly projectiles in a crash. For example, during a crash at 30 mph, a case of canned goods or bottled water weighing 20 lbs flying off the counter or out of the kitchenette’s cupboard would be the equivalent of 600 lbs slamming into an RV occupant.  An improperly restrained passenger who weighs 150 lbs would become the equivalent of 4,500 lbs during a crash at 30 mph.

A tow-behind camper and vehicle with which to tow it is the only safe option. That way everyone stay safely restrained, but you still can camp.

The injuries sustained by kids from wearing lap only belts are horrible- lacerations to organs in the lower abdomen, septic shock from torn intestines, lower spinal fractures and worse. So much so that emergency room surgeons have given the symptoms a name, “Seatbelt Syndrome.” If you can find any other option, including a custom tether anchor, your child would be much safer.

I don’t even know where to start (although I am intrigued about being able to become 3,000lbs of “force,” that sounds kind of awesome).  I think it’s fair (and derisive I suppose, sorry again) to say that carseat-heads probably missed the day Newtonian physics was taught in school… or maybe only half-listened.  Their hearts are in the right place, I can say that much.  I can get this kind of attitude, I think.  We all love our kids and would rather they stay alive than cease living – that’s an easy one.  But something about the above smacks me as self-righteous, loving-to-the-point-of-crippling, overbearing and over-protective.

So I tell you what internet.  Here’s what we’re going to do:  We are going to take Cohen (eleven months) and Keaton (five years) on this amazing, once-in-a-lifetime journey.  We’re going to put the carseats in the dinette location with the latch and bank on #1 – not crashing & #2 – being the winning/bigger object if and when we do.  I’m not going to care if the belts are attached to the frame or the wood or whatever.  I’m also not going to even consider the fact that items in an RV during a crash can become “missiles.”  In fact, I contend that this point is beyond ridiculous.  Anything, in any wreck, can become a deadly projectile.  I can also tell you right now I will probably let my five year old do “reasonable” walking around in the living quarters whilst we drive (no scissors allowed).  You know what that means, I am obviously rooting for the worst.

A car crash is bad; a car crash is never good; the most basic idiot knows this.  I hereby proclaim that unless you never, ever take your child in a vehicle at all, ever, period – you are just death-baiting.  You really gonna sit there and gamble with your kid’s life like that?   You monster, you abject beast.  I only drive if we have to go to the emergency room (when my kid’s peanut allergy acts up) and when I do I keep the child in an inflatable bubble and never go faster than 25mph, beat that.

Pish-tosh internet, pish-tosh.


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28 Replies to “carseats in RVs (or, death-baiting)”

  1. I usually go by the philospophy that if it was good enough for my Mom, its good enough for me. My mom raised 3 healthy, happy children and we grew up in the days without seatbelt laws. Heck we even were able to ride in the back of a pickup truck without restraints. And we survived. That’s being said, I’d still keep those scissors locked up while driving.

  2. I loved reading this. In doing my own research on baby gear I have come across many passionate parents who are dead-set in their ways. It’s amusing to read their thoughts, but also sort of scary. I think your kids will be just fine!

  3. we’re going to have to take a taxi or public transport to get our newborn home from the hospital…we don’t even have a car seat.

  4. Omgosh! Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post!!!!! I was reading some of those same comments and FREAKING OUT! You make a lot of sense and I appreciate it. We are thinking of buying an RV but we have 5 kids from age 1 to 8 so obviously most of our kids are in a car seat of some sort. I feel much better now! Thanks again!!

  5. Hello. Soo what’s the final verdict on carseat installation in an RV? I have an 18 month old and from what I’ve read to date, there’s simply no safe way to travel if a carseat is needed. We’re planning to take a 12 hr road trip down south.

    1. We managed to put the rear-facing seat in the dinette area, using the LATCH hooks which were there (probably attached to wood and not frame, but whatever). Works great.

      1. FYI, I’m a 1st time you can imagine my reluctance to attach car seat to ply wood. Dad read the manual and it stated that a car seat can be installed in the chair directly behind the front passenger’s seat. To add additional assurance, we’re calling the RV dealer today to speak to a tech for confirmation. Also, I think I will call the local car seat saftey inspector as well.

        I know I’m being over-protective but the thought of an ill-installed seat will drive me bonkers and I won’t be able to focus on driving..perhaps an even bigger issue :).

        I’ll comment on my findings later today…

        1. Nope – you’re doing what feels right. Don’t let my dumb blog change your mind on that 🙂

          Hope it all works out for you!

  6. My daughter go RVing with us. Their grandpa dead bolted their car seats behind the passenger seat. He did this for their safety, as well as his. Imagine driving 1800 miles with a very curious toddler.

  7. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! For this post!! I (just like you) have been searching everywhere for what would be the best possible place, I made the command decision to attach my 12 month old’s car seat to the dinette area as well. I seriously came across every one of those examples listed above, and the ignorance in the posts were absolutely appalling! Either education in this country is failing people or they do not teach physics anymore..not sure. We are leaving today in our RV (Class C) from home in California to my In-Laws in Florida…I am not going to let the posts online ruin mine or my children’s experience. I imagine the people writing those comments are not very savvy nor have they probably ever been RVing…either way here in California pretty much every other family owns an RV or goes RVing regularly to the many wonderful camping destinations..I have not heard of any deaths or accidents as of late, however I have heard of several different car accidents, two motorcycle accidents and two semi’s turned over on the Interstate down the road… Bizarre! I suppose the projectile object throwing death traps accidents are being kept a secret. o.O

  8. After I was brought home from the hospital in my mothers arms in the early 70s, I spent the vast majority of my childhood in the back of a Ford Econoline van, travelling from coast to coast, on a foamy, wrestling with my siblings and picking the lead paint off my dad’s axel stands that were unsecured (projectiles).
    Despite my parents best efforts somehow I not only survived my childhood, I enjoyed it. Imagine my parent’s surprise when lived long enough to get an education, became an adult and had my own kids!
    My kids will travel in our class A with their car seats bolted to mere 3/4″ plywood.
    Yeah – I’m going to throw caution to the wind and even have them side facing. What a rebel! I may not understand much about accident dynamics and physics, but I bet they’ll be a darn bit safer than I was!
    The leading cause of death is living. I can’t and won’t raise my kids to be afraid of life.
    Thank you for your blog. It’s really nice to know that there is a few of us left.

  9. Thank goodness I read this!! My hubby and I have decided were going to live a little fun and spend some money and get a c class rv and we want to take our 13 month old with us everywhere we go and also have another on the way. My first thought was as long as theres seat belts I can strap in car seats and all will be well! But then I started to read various posts by other on line and started to rethink our decision. Until I read this blog. I got thinking… School busses don’t have seat belts, public transit dont have seat belts, the back of cop cars don’t have seatbelts, and im pretty sure that when my mom brought me home from the hospital in her arms, in the back of out car without seat belts, I made it alive!! Don’t get me wrong I’m not going to be stupid and have a bunch of things laying around that could go flying if we had to slam the breaks. And the kids will be strapped in their car seats bolted into the dinette. But I know that I will have taken precautions and we are going to go out have have a good time and try not to worry about dieing. 🙂 happy rv-ing everyone.

  10. I’m so glad I read your post *before* encountering the posters and information you describe. We are about to purchase a class C to travel with our 6-year-old and 1-year-old and I had some worries after the first few google hits on this subject. thank you for this post and for more sane voices in reasonably child-safe fun!!

  11. Thanks for the sanity check!
    Does anyone have thoughts on putting a 9 month old “rear facing” at the dinette by installing a convertible car seat in the typical forward configuration? Physics tells me this should be fine, but the Internet and manufactures say its not, but give no reasoning.

    1. Katie,
      I have always wondered that exact same thing, if my child needs to be rear facing and I have a convertible carseat, then why can I not put it “forward facing” in a rear facing seat? Seems exactly the same to me.

    2. Basic physics will tell you that you also need to consider the angle of the car seat, not just the direction. Rear-facing seats have a specific angle at which they need to be placed. It would be unlikely that you could achieve the required angle by simply turning around a forward facing seat.

  12. Wow, I am so sorry you seem turned off by the car seat nerds (polite term for Nazi). Maybe you should consider taking the car seat certification class to learn why they think as they do. As far as deriding them for a lack of Physics, they are repeating exactly what we teach, which is weight x speed = restraining force. This is a simplified version of the delta v formula. Sorry that not all people have had that level of Physics training, but we work with a diverse population. That said, no one has the right to dictate how you transport your children. That is your decision. All car seat technicians should do is educate you on the possible consequences of your choices( based upon standard practices and crash testing results). This is a constantly evolving field of knowledge. As such, we do not know what would happen to children secured in “homemade” lower anchor and tether configurations. If you feel comfortable using what you installed that is great. Bear in mind the litigious society we live in and use discretion on encouraging others to copy your system. Understand the federal standards in the US do not all apply to RVs as they do to cars. This means RVs are not subject to any of the same testing standards that apply to passenger cars. I could go on in more depth, but will suffice it to say many of us have cleaned up the remains of incorrectly restrained children off the pavement in the course of our jobs, then have gone home and hugged our children as they slept safely in their beds. I hope you never have to regret your choices.

    1. Anyone who quotes the adult at 30mph becoming a gazillion pound hammer needs to see section 1, subparagraph 1 in The Holyesteth Commandments of Thine Physics (1687, Newton) (sic):

      “Every body persists in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by force impressed.”

      Given that, if you found yourself unrestrained in an accident where your 13,000lb RV and all occupants traveling at 30mph stopped instantly, you’d have a small portion of a second longer than your fellow occupants to contemplate life, it’s meaning, and your current predicament before you joined them in the afterlife.

  13. Very well put post. You wrote exactly what I’ve come across, and exactly what we were thinking on the situation too. Reading a lot of the forums, it may as well have read “No Babies & Toddlers Allowed”. We are planning to buy soon & take a big trip this year with 13, 4 & 2 year old boys… As if the thought isn’t scary enough (just kidding, sorta)… But the pressure of “car seats no way no how”
    was almost too much.

  14. Any thoughts on bolting a seat belt or other attachment points to the floor of a van, and installing a car seat to that? Not legally an RV… Trying to figure out if there is a way to keep our baby closer to us, not 4 feet back.

  15. I realize this article was written about 5 years ago, but it is so relevant to me right now. My husband and I are taking a trip to California from Florida. Our daughter is 10 months old. We are right now tossing around ideas about where her car seat should go. I, too, searched Google and found very little guidance about this topic, basically every site says, the best solution is to drive a separate vehicle, yea, that’s not going to happen. Thank you for writing what we are all thinking.

  16. I know this blog is several years old now, but we purchased a 2017 class C last year. It has rear tethers in the dinette so one can attach a front facing car seat (or rear I suppose) there. We put the table down first and made it into a “bed” so our girls carseats will fit and they can stretch out their legs during travel. I purchased expensive Britax “click tight” seats that install very snugly with little “move” back and forth. I called the manufacturer and they assured me that the rear tethers were attached to the vehicle frame, and the seat belts too, so even if the dinette was to bust apart in the event of an accident the car seats should remain in place. I hope we never have to find out as it still makes me nervous!

  17. Thanks for this! I was researching car seat laws for class A vehicles for my 5 kids, ages 9 to 1. I came across many posts like the ones you mentioned and was starting to question our recent purchase and plans for a memorable 17-day trip through the national parks. We did a test run last night. I attached the seats for my 2 youngest in the dinette section, and my older 3 used the couch lap belts. They all had a blast and I’m SO looking forward to our trip. After all, I survived my childhood without these crazy laws and fear mongering!

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