Poll: Some Parents Forgo Car Seats, Other Safety Measures While Traveling

December 19, 2016 7:00 AM

During the holiday travel season, some parents take a break from placing toddlers in car seats and preventing unsafe access to medications and other dangers, a new national survey finds.

Parents’ to-do lists before traveling with toddlers this holiday season may include packing an emergency stock of snacks, activities and wardrobe changes.

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But what some may not plan for ahead of vacation: accidental poisoning risks, gun safety and Uber rides.

A new report from the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll suggests that some parents may overlook safety risks to kids during travel, including car-seat use during taxi rides or rideshares and preventing easy access to medications, cleaning supplies and even weapons at a place they’re staying.

Each year, millions of families with toddlers travel during the holiday season, leaving behind daily routines and a childproof home environment. The nationally representative poll asked parents with at least one child ages 2 to 5 about recent travel habits.

“Parents are typically vigilant about safety measures, making sure toddlers are always in car seats and that medications and cleaning supplies are locked up or out of reach. But they may be less fastidious while on vacation, leaving medications in open suitcases or on hotel tables or not childproofing a relative’s house,” says poll co-director Sarah Clark, M.P.H.

“It’s important that parents are just as attentive to child-safety risks on trips as they would be at home.”

Preparing for common pitfalls 

Among the most troubling findings: 15 percent of parents said they did not put their toddlers in car seats for every car ride on a recent trip, with the majority of cases involving taxis or ridesharing services such as Uber or Lyft.

“Car crashes are a leading cause of injury and death among toddlers, which is why it’s critical that parents plan ahead to make sure their child is properly restrained during every car ride on vacation,” Clark says. “Planning for car seats can be inconvenient in certain destinations, but going without is never worth the risk.”

Meanwhile, three-quarters of parents remembered to safely store medications when traveling with toddlers, and two-thirds of parents checked to make sure cleaning supplies, guns and other weapons were out of the child’s reach. Two-thirds also checked the hot water temperature wherever they were staying. Forty percent of parents reported taking all of these safety precautions — while 3 percent did none.

“Traveling with a toddler can be a daunting task,” Clark says. “Many parents spend quite a bit of time planning ahead to avoid meltdowns by scheduling days around naps and packing items that will keep their kids entertained. It’s just as important that parents plan for measures to keep kids safe on the road.”

Survey results of parents taking safety precautions while traveling with a toddler

Traveling safely with toddlers

Clark offers these safety tips:

  • Bring a car seat or rent one if needed during travel. Many airlines allow parents to check a car seat for free. If you are taking a ridesharing service and don’t have a car seat, reserve a car that comes with a toddler car seat.

  • If staying with friends or relatives, ask your hosts to put medications, household cleaners and other potential dangers in a location out of a toddler’s reach.

  • Pack portable safety devices such as cabinet latches and baby gates to use as barriers to potential dangers, both in home and hotel settings.

  • Once you arrive at a destination, do a thorough review — from a toddler’s perspective — to identify potential safety hazards, including medications, cleaning supplies and other poisonous substances. Household cleaners are a common cause of poisoning and are often stored in cabinets low to the ground, right at toddler level.

  • Ask hosts if they own guns or other weapons and ensure that they are stored safely. Given recent accidental shootings by and of toddlers, specific safety precautions related to guns and weapons are important to consider.

See the full Mott Poll report online here.