Skip to main content

Is Your Car Seat Ready for a Road Trip?

by Rebecca Alwine - September 26th, 2021

Is Your Car Seat Ready for a Road Trip?

Whether or not you are PCSing this year, it’s the perfect time for a road trip! But if you have young children, you will want to make sure your infant car seat is installed properly and ready to go.

The number one concern parents have is safety. From what their kids are eating to what they are watching, we want to keep them safe. This should be first and foremost in our minds each and every time we put our kids in the car. I’ll be the first to admit, with a six year gap between my middle and my youngest, I forgot a lot about infant car seat safety. Luckily, I have a friend who is passionate about it.

I spoke with Laurel Frock, a military spouse, Child Passenger Safety Technician, and a member of the editorial team at Car Seats for the Littles.  Here are some of the questions parents frequently ask regarding infant car seat and child safety.

If I'm traveling through multiple states, which infant car seat law do I need to follow?

Laurel Frock: Follow best practice recommendations. The law is only what you have to follow so you won’t get into trouble. Rarely does it meet nationally accepted safety recommendations. If you’re going by best practice recommendations, you’re meeting state laws, by and large. More info is available here.

Do I really need to bring my infant care seat on the airplane (I am guilty of not wanting to pay for an extra seat and haul that thing around)?

Frock: Short, answer? Yes. Virtually all transportation authorities and organizations recommend using a car seat on the plane – even for babies. Having a “lap baby” is now widely understood by safety and government agencies as an unsafe practice. Generally kids need a harnessed seat on the plane until the belt fits, which is around 40 pounds.

Kids can continue to use a rear or forward facing seat until the seat’s limit. Almost all US seats with a harness are FAA approved for use in harness mode. Some rear facing seats don’t fit as well as others, but there are inexpensive options available.

Why shouldn't I rent a car seat from the rental agency?

Frock: Just like renting a mid-size sedan is a guessing game as to what you’re actually going to get, renting a car seat from the agency is risky. It’s like a box of chocolates. You’ll never know what you will get. What you consider an infant car seat, they may not. Sometimes there may even be high chair boosters available for rent! Read more here.

How do I know when my kid is ready for a booster (boosters are so much easier to travel with!)?

Frock: Generally around 5-6, when kiddos start to have a good belt fit, meet the booster seat’s minimums, and can sit properly for the entire ride – even when sleeping. No leaning over or slouching, no fussing with the belt. Some states and many boosters now have a 40 pound booster minimum, but it has to do with maturity. Information about free and discounted car seat programs in each state can be found here

My kid hates being in the car seat, can I just switch him around for the road trip so he faces front?

Frock: We don’t recommend forward facing kids under two for safety reasons. It is definitely up to the parents to forward face at that point. Personally, after two cross country PCS moves totaling 12 days of driving with kids, I didn’t see a difference between rear and forward facing. What really matters is stopping frequently. Not only is it better for kids, but it is safer for them, and for adults too. Stopping every 2-4 hours (no longer than 2 if newborns are in the car) is recommended. Driving through the night seems like a good idea, but drowsy driving is as dangerous as drunk driving so it is a very real concern. The National Safety Council warns against drowsy driving on long trips, in fact. If driving through the night, one will need to completely change ones sleep schedule. Relying on coffee and caffeine is not a safe alternative.

My experience

I recently drove cross-country for a move and then a week later flew with my family. My big kids are 7 and almost 9 and still ride in booster seats all the time. We use a bubble bum car seat for them for several reasons, including the size. It easily fits in their back packs and allowed us to fit 3 car seats across in a rental car. While we did not bring the car seat on the plane for our 13 month old (I know, I know – but I’m being honest) we did continue to rear face him in the rental car and for all car trips.

What works for me may not work for you, ultimately following these tips is up to you. But I want you to have all the information possible so you can make the right decision for your family. For more info on car seats and how to find a CPST in your area, visit Car Seats for the Littles on Facebook.

Rebecca Alwine

Rebecca Alwine is an Army wife, mother of three and lover of her adorable pirate dog. Over the past 15 years, she’s discovered she enjoys coffee, lifting weights and most of the menial tasks of motherhood. Her days consist of working out in her garage gym, audiobooks and pretending to cook while her Instant Pot and Air Fryer do all the work. Her motto: work smarter, not harder.