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Is an RV Safe for Family Travel?

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A Guide For Safe RV Family Travel

Three kids sit on top of a pop-up RV camper with mountains in the background. One of the recommendations for RV safe travel.
Photo Courtesy: Noelle MacGregor

I vividly remember my multigenerational RV trip in 1991. Traveling from Wisconsin to California and back via Route 66, we made all the “must-see” stops. 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 family RV travel, but some of my 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, I find myself looking at safety standards as we better understand the impacts of RV safe family travel. If you’re looking for information on whether an RV is right for you, this article can help you out. Let’s explore how safe it is to travel with your family in an RV!

What Is An RV? 

5th-wheel RV stationed on the grass with mountains in the background. One of the recommendations for RV safe travel.
Photo Courtesy: Michelle Hamilton

RV – or Recreational Vehicle – is defined, according to Merriam-Webster, 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 explanation of the types of RV’s, visit the General RV blog!

Rent a Class C RV for your next camping adventure

Considerations For Safe RV Family Travel 

Is an RV safe for family travel? Is it the right choice for your kids? Review these safety considerations before making your decision! 

Towing a Large Vehicle

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. Care has to be taken when deciding which trailer can be hauled by each specific car or truck. US News and World Report have put together articles for recommendations on which SUVs and trucks are best for towing. For families, trailers are a safer option because children can use their car seats within the truck or car. A driver must have experience with driving the length and weight of the full vehicle when hauling a trailer. For example, increased space and time to allow for slowing and breaking is required.  Drivers may need a special license depending on which country you are driving an RV.

Seatbelt Concerns in Motorhomes

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 that are in the rear of the motorhome. 

When families travel by motorhome, typically kids sit on the benches at the table.  Depending on the motorhome, seatbelts may be present. However, they may not be secured to the frame of the vehicle. Often, seatbelts are attached to the floorboard. This can give a false sense of security. There are no safe options for securing a child in a rear-facing car seat in the rear of a motorhome. 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. 

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. If traveling with a motorhome, the safest option is to take a second, separate vehicle for the remaining family members to ride in safety.

Projectiles Within A Motorhome

Another consideration, when having children as passengers in the rear of a motorhome, is that all of the objects within the motorhome may become projective objects in the event of a crash. Watch this Swedish RV crash test or this multi-series video from Bailey Crash, video 1, video 2, and video 3 to gather a sense of what this means. Having items that are not safely secured throughout the motorhome presents a number of safety-related issues for families.

Indoor Air Quality in an RV

Driving an RV also poses some environmental apprehensions. 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 is outlined here. Older models may have decreased levels of off-gassing because time has allowed fumes to be outgassed.  

Looking for a weekend trip that allows social distancing? Try renting an RV from RVshare. Prices start at $50

RV Safe Family Travel Options

Pop-up camper being towed by a large vehicle sits at a campsite within the mountains.
Photo Courtesy: Noelle MacGregor

Trailers are a safer alternative to family RV 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. In addition, airbags and other safety features are present in standard cars and trucks. Also, campervans and truck campers 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. 

For those who would rather have an RV 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 also offers 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. Use this coupon for up to $55 off toward your first Airbnb trip!

Planning Your Safe RV Family Travel

Pop-up camper being towed by a large vehicle sits as a desert campsite at sunset.
Photo Courtesy: Noelle MacGregor

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 safety for family travel in an RV. In the end, it’s up to you to further investigate your unique family situation and make travel plans accordingly. 

Need more information? See these articles Safe RV Travel with Children, Traveling in RV’s with Children, and 5 Things to Know about Safe RV Travel with Kids for a deeper understanding of safety considerations unique to families. In addition, if you are traveling by RV to visit a National Park or two, don’t miss our Top 10 National Parks for Families!

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

If you have decided to take an RV trip, read this article.

Thank You to Our Community!

Large family sits at a picnic table enjoying a meal with their pop-up camper in the background.
Photo Courtesy: Noelle MacGregor

A special thank you to the Families Who Love to Travel Facebook community who helped with the research for this article. They are a group of like-minded families who love adventure and exploring through travel.  Join the Facebook community and the Instagram community to connect with other families who love the unique experiences travel has to offer, whether by air, train, or RV.  It is also a safe place to ask questions and gather travel-related information specific to families. We welcome you!

Search for an RV to rent now

Want to see more from Michelle?  Find her on Instagram @adventuretolearn. 

Planning your 2021 family trip? Do it safely by booking an RV from RVshare today

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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.
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