The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of our lives, including the way we travel and recreate.
There has been a shift toward outdoor recreation since the beginning of the pandemic, and a study conducted in March 2020 concluded that 68 percent of people feel safe traveling in a personal vehicle. This has created a unique situation where recreational vehicles (RVs) are gaining popularity.
An RV is a vehicle that combines transportation and temporary living quarters for travel, recreation and camping.
Roughly 11 million U.S. households currently own an RV, and throughout the pandemic, RV sales soared while bookings of RV rentals also increased significantly.
Car Seats and Recreational Vehicles: Beware of the Risks
Car seats are designed for the FMVSS 213 bench and motor vehicle seats that meet the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard definitions of "passenger car" and "multipurpose passenger vehicle." An RV is neither.
The Manufacturers Alliance for Child Passenger Safety (MACPS) definitively discourages the use of motorized RVs for the transport of children, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does not currently crash test RVs with adult or child occupants.
While RVs may meet some Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, they are only required to comply with seat belt standards for the front passengers – not for any rear occupants. Though an RV's rear occupant seat belts are usually bolted to the floor, the biggest concern is that the wooden seat structure where a passenger sits will fail and cause injury in a crash.
For these reasons, it is not recommended to rely on car seats to protect children while travelling in recreational vehicles.
Recommendations for Parents
Child safety restraint systems, such as car seats and booster seats, should never be used in rear-facing or side-facing bench seating. As such, we recommend using a non-motorized, towable RV. Children can be secured in the passenger vehicle that is pulling the RV.
For anyone who doesn't have a towable RV, the second-best option is to have an adult drive a second car behind the RV. Instead of riding in the RV, children will ride in the vehicle where they can be restrained properly.
The third-best solution would be to select an RV with custom seats built in that comply with federal seat belt standards.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does not currently crash test RVs with adults or child occupants. For these reasons, it is not recommended to rely on car seats to protect children while travelling in recreational vehicles.
For more information about child safety restraint systems in recreational vehicles, contact your child's car seat manufacturer and your RV manufacturer directly.
For PennDOT Child Passenger Safety information, see our traffic safety and driver topic page.