A Guide To Safety For RV Family Travel

A family of three sits together outside their RV.

Traveling as a family in an RV can be a wonderful way to see the world, create memories, and bond with your family — however, do you find yourself wondering about RV safety for kids and RV safety for families? Our multigenerational RV family vacation in 1991 was incredibly memorable for our whole family. We traveled out west toward California from Wisconsin via Route 66, making all tourist stops along the way. Lake Powell and the Grand Canyon were our absolute favorites. Tight quarters, teenagers, grandparents, and lots of time together can be a challenging mix for RV family travel, but some of our best memories came from that wonderful trip. I still remember being able to play cards at the table and sleep during the drive – now a very unsafe practice. 

Since my trip, 30 years ago, and now as a mom, I find myself looking at safety standards as we better understand the impacts of RV safety for families. This article will help you understand RV family travel better, if it is right for your family, and any RV child safety implications and RV safety tips for your RV family vacation. Let’s explore how safe it is to travel on your RV family vacation!

What is an RV?

Three children sitting on RV pop-up trailer with mountains in background
Photo Courtesy: Noelle MacGregor

According to Merriam-Webster, an RV – or Recreational Vehicle – is defined as a “vehicle designed for recreational use.” Synonyms include camper, trailer, motorhome, and caravan. Each has a distinct difference and also a different level of safety for travel.

For purposes of this article, we will use “trailer” as hitch-able and towable by another vehicle. This would include fifth-wheel campers, toy haulers, pop-up campers, and various-sized travel campers. Instead, we’ll use “motorhome” to define a “self-propelled vehicle designed for human habitation.” Motorhomes are gas or diesel-powered. They come in various classes, A, B, and C. For further help and an explanation, read about the types of RVs.

Rent a Class C RV for your next camping adventure!

Considerations for RV Safety for Families

A white RV parked near the mountains.
Photo Courtesy: Michelle Hamilton

When considering RV family travel, there are many safety considerations to take into account. Be sure to educate yourself on the right choices for your kids and your family. In this section, we have included information about safety concerns directly related to motorhomes and RVs, respectively. Review these safety considerations before making your decision! 

Skip the fuss and book a United States RV or Caravan rental with Vrbo.

Family Travel Saftey Considerations for RVs

When considering RV travel with kids, there are a few things you should consider regarding everyone’s safety. Here’s where to start.

READ NEXT: Find Best National Parks to Visit in Winter with Kids

Towing a Trailer

Pop up trailer parked in the desert during the sunset
Photo Courtesy: Noelle MacGregor

Travel trailers are hitched to a towing vehicle, such as a truck or car, that has the capacity to tow the weight of each individual trailer. Trailers are a safer option when choosing RV family travel or RV living because of the ability to meet seat belt laws when traveling. Use care to haul with your specific car or truck. US News and World Report have put together articles for recommendations on which SUVs and trucks are best for towing.

Trailers are a safer option for RV family vacations because children can use their car seats within the truck or car and therefore meet RV child seat laws. When considering RV family travel, a driver must have experience driving the length and weight of the full vehicle when hauling a trailer. Allow for increased space and time to break due to the extra weight when hauling. 

Drivers may need a special license depending on which country they are driving an RV. It is always recommended to practice a bit with the trailer before heading out on your RV family vacation adventure. Practice in parking lots or driving around a local park to learn how the trailer handles turns and backing. This will help you feel more confident in maneuvering the trailer set-up of your choice prior to your big trip and help you feel safer during your RV family trip.

READ NEXT: 13 Best Road Trip Planning Apps For Camping and RVs!

Do RV Benches Have Seatbelts?

Pop-up RV trailed attached to SUV parked during sunset
Photo Courtesy: Noelle MacGregor

Often there can be some confusion about seatbelts in motorhomes. Kids sit on the benches at the table in motorhomes where seatbelts may or may not be present. If seatbelts are present, they may not be secured to the frame of the vehicle. Often, seatbelts are attached to the floorboard, giving a false sense of security. And, there are no safe options for securing a child in a rear-facing car seat in the rear of a motorhome. We want children to be safely secure in car seats meeting all seat belt laws in your area of travel. Motorhome rears make this increasingly difficult. Manufacturers Alliance for Child Passengers offers their advice on RV child safety and some RV safety tips

For children who are in booster seats and older children, there may only be a lap belt option without the three-point shoulder belt. This is not a safe option as it doesn’t meet the Five-Step Test. Be sure to brush up on all of the seat belt laws and child safety needs in this Safe in the Seat article about RV safety for families

Indoor Air Quality in an RV

Family eating a meal on a bench outside of their RV pop-up trailer
Photo Courtesy: Noelle MacGregor

Another safety concern, especially with new RVs, is off-gassing. Have you heard of off-gassing? Here is all you need to know about potentially toxic chemicals in your RV. RV finishes can contain certain chemicals that may exacerbate health problems, like asthma or bronchitis. Concerns of overexposure to formaldehyde off-gassing from the interior finishes are outlined here. Older models may have decreased levels of off-gassing because time has allowed fumes to be outgassed.

Family Travel Saftey Considerations for Motorhomes

While motorhome travel is widely considered less safe than other types of RV travel, some families may still be thinking about planning a trip using a motorhome. When considering motorhome travel with kids, there are a few things you should consider regarding everyone’s safety. Here’s where to start.

Seatbelt Concerns in Motorhomes

A motorhome is parked on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean.
Photo Courtesy: Fabian

RV safety with kids is a top priority. Motorhomes may not be a safe option to travel with a family because of RV seat belt laws. Extra care should be taken if traveling with motorhomes due to the seat belts in the rear of the motorhome. Motorhomes, typically over 10,000 lbs, are not required to meet the same safety standards as standard cars and trucks. They are only required to comply with seat belt standards for front passengers, not rear occupants. 

Many of the features, such as airbags and seatbelts, are not present for the passengers in the rear of the motorhome, thus adding extra safety concerns to consider when deciding the best RV type for your trip. New motorhomes may have better safety features, but it is your responsibility to do your due diligence when researching each specific motorhome for RV safety for kids and for families. 

Projectiles Within a Motorhome

A woman standing outside of a motorhome.
Photo Courtesy: Julian Ackroyd

In a motorhome, many items are not properly secured and tied down. Therefore, when children or adults are passengers in the rear of the motorhome, objects may become projective objects in the event of a crash. To get an idea of how dangerous this can be, please watch this Swedish RV crash test or this multi-series video from Bailey Crash, video 1, video 2, and video 3. Having items that are not safely secured throughout the motorhome presents several safety-related issues for families. Sometimes even the cabinets come flying in an accident. 

Following these RV safety tips will help. Secure all loose items before hitting the road. Objects need to be stored appropriately so they don’t become projectiles during sudden stops, turns, or accidents. Avoid overloading, especially in the overhead compartments. Be mindful of the weight distribution, and be sure to also follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for weight capacity and load distribution during your RV family vacation. 

A Separate Vehicle

A motorhome set up for camp at sunset.
Photo Courtesy: Noelle MacGregor

If traveling with a motorhome, the best option for RV safety with kids is to take a second, separate vehicle for the remaining family members to ride in safety. This will allow for the driver of the motorhome to be secured safely in a seatbelt with one passenger while driving, and all other family passengers to be secured and compliant with seat belt laws

Knowing about potential seatbelt concerns is a key component to knowing if RV travel is safe for families. For further information regarding seat belt safety, specifically related to children riding in the rear of a motorhome, Car Seats for Littles, a community-driven, education-oriented organization, staffed by Child Passenger Safety Technicians from the United States and Canada, and EU Advocates, provides extensive information about all of the concerns.

Safe RV Family Travel Options

A RV parked at a campsite, near the mountains
Photo Courtesy: Noelle MacGregor

So now that you know the potential safety risks – what are the safer options? Here are four to consider.

Trailers

Trailers are a safer alternative to RV family travel. A trailer, such as a fifth wheel, pop-up camper, or camper trailer, is towed by a truck or car. This means children are safely buckled into car seats or three-point shoulder belts, meeting seat belt laws. In addition, airbags and other safety features are present in standard cars and trucks where they may not be present in motorhomes.

Finding a used trailer is a cost-effective way to begin your RV family travel or even family RV living. Family RV living has become a popular idea and is a wonderful way to live if all RV safety tips are considered.

Looking to plan a weekend trip? Try renting an RV from RVshare. Prices start at $50

Campervans

Also, campervans have become very popular among families, as an alternative to motorhomes. Their improved safety features allow families to focus on the fun, instead of the potential risks. Popular Mechanics has found the coolest camper in every size and for most budgets

Truck Campers

Truck campers are another great alternative to a trailer. Having a truck allows for the child safety and seat belt laws to be met while riding in the cab of the truck and also bringing your camper along in the bed of the truck.

Truck Camper Adventure has done a lot of leg work in the research of the top truck campers. Spending time doing your own research on which truck camper fits your family’s needs best is well worth your time, however. If you need a truck camper that sleeps 5, you want to be sure the space truly allows for it. It may even be worth checking out a variety in person to get a true feel for the space before committing.

On-Site Delivery

For those who would rather have an RV family travel experience without having to tow a trailer or drive a motorhome, Outdoorsy.com offers an option for on-site delivery of an RV of your choice. Airbnb and Vrbo also offer the option of renting an RV/camper in a specific location. This way, you could drive safely in your car, set up RV rentals along your route, and still experience the fun of RV camping! To find this as an option on Airbnb, go under “filters,” scroll down to “Unique Homes,” and click on the Camper/RV option. This may be just the RV family vacation option you are looking for!

READ NEXT: Find Beginners Guide to Family RVing Here!

Planning Your Safe RV Family Travel

A drone shot of an RV traveling down an empty road, with a forest on each side.
Photo Courtesy: Tim Gouw

Ultimately, we know travel, of any kind, poses various forms of risk to our children. The beauty of individual freedom is the ability to gather information independently and make informed decisions based on your own comfort. Rather than a partisan opinion, this article is meant to provide information in one place with easy-to-find references specifically related to safe family travel in an RV. Ultimately, it’s up to you to further investigate safety for RV family travel, consider your unique family situation, and make travel plans accordingly. 

Rent an RV to see all of our Amazing National Parks. Find the Best RV Rental Specials here.

Happy Travels!

Family enjoying a meal at a camp site under a canopy of their RV
Photo Courtesy: Diane Oliveira

We hope you found this Guide For Safety For RV Family Travel helpful in planning your own trip with kids. Whether it’s your first RV trip or you need a quick refresher, this article is sure to help you decide whether an RV family vacation is right for you.

*This post may contain affiliate links that may earn us a small commission, at no additional cost to you. Affiliate links in no way inform the hotels, sights, products, or other recommendations included in our articles. All opinions and recommendations expressed here are compiled from submissions submitted by the generous members of our Families Who Love To Travel community.

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Michelle Hamilton

Michelle Hamilton has been traveling since she was a few months old. Born in California with her heart in Switzerland, where her family is originally from, she now instills this wanderlust into her own three children. Michelle currently lives and works as a Pediatric Occupational Therapist in Colorado, where she owns an Air B&B, and spends her free time outdoors hiking, biking, or skiing. Having traveled much of Europe and Asia with her husband, she soon plans to "worldschool" her kids, merging an enriching education with her family's passion for travel.