Travelling with kids this holiday? How to make your road trip easier and safer

Published Dec 11, 2023

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Many South Africans will be taking to the roads this holiday, making their way to friends, family or that special getaway spot, with the whole family in the car.

For those travelling with young children the journey can be quite challenging. While some children love being in the car, others simply hate having to sit still for any length of time and will make it known that they want to be there already - does the phrase “are we there yet?” sound familiar?

Here are some tips for making the car journey with infants and young children safer and easier:

Buckle up

Safety should always be the number one priority when travelling with children in a car, with rule number one being to make sure they are safely buckled up.

The South African National Road Traffic Act advises that all passengers under three years of age must be restrained in a car seat. The seat should be suitable for their weight, height, and comply with the South African National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS). To this end, Arrive Alive has useful tips, guidelines and advice that is worth familiarising yourself with.

Children that have outgrown a car seat may still need a booster seat, which is designed for children weighing in at around 18kg and works to raise the child so that their shoulders are better aligned with the safety belt and thus more securely strapped in.

Also make sure to activate the child lock feature on the car doors to prevent them opening the doors while in transit.

Children between the ages of three and fourteen years must be safely secured in their seats according to their weight and height. Failure to comply with these laws can result in fines and even imprisonment.

Are we there yet?

It’s not unusual for children to fidget - and complain - as they grow restless in the car. Fidgeting can also lead them to figuring out how to unbuckle themselves. This can put children at a 3.5-fold increased risk for serious injuries, according to a study by Yale School of Medicine.

“The team found that 75% of children who self-unbuckle were aged three and under, with an age range of 12 to 78 months. Unbuckling was reported as early as 12 months of age and was more common in boys than girls. Of the children self-unbuckling, 43% did so while the car was in motion,” according to the above-mentioned study.

Head of MiWay Blink, Keletso Mpisane tips, “Always make sure that the child lock feature on your doors is on. This however does not cancel out all the safety risks as fidgeting can distract the driver. Some possible strategies to manage children’s behaviour when travelling are letting children fidget in harmless ways, such as using squeeze balls and appropriate toys, and giving children short breaks from travelling to move around and release their energy is advisable.

“Use positive reinforcement and praise when children stay buckled and calm. Explaining the importance of automotive restraints and the consequences of self-unbuckling to the children”, adds the mother of two.

A joyful journey

Remember that the journey can be as exciting as the destination so consider some of the tips below to keep the young ones engaged and occupied on the trip:

Play games: Engage older children with word games of guessing games, or simply by chatting - the car is a great space for engaging conversation

Listen to music: Music can have a very calming effect on children so have a suitable playlist ready

Books: Picture books are a great way to keep young children entertained so make sure to pack a variety

Snacks: Make sure to pack a variety of wholesome snacks to keep everyone sustained - dried fruit, nuts and biltong are popular favourites

Stay hydrated: Drinking enough water is as important for children as it is for adults - young children should be given drinks in an appropriate straw or sippy cup

Safety for all

Last but not least, make sure to check on the condition of your car before heading out. If you’re travelling it may be worth having your car checked by a professional.

Make sure to pack a fire extinguisher, small first aid kit and drinking water.

Mpisane says, “Have a map or GPS ready and plan your route out in detail, aim to break up the journey into smaller segments and plan frequent stops at interesting places to refresh the children’s minds and to beat travel fatigue. Children need to stretch their legs, run around, and burn off some energy”, she adds.

A safe journey is a happy one so make sure never to compromise on safety.

Related Topics:

Road tripRoad safety