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Car travel with babies and children

6-minute read

Key facts

  • Always use a car seat that's suitable for your child's age and size, and be sure that it is properly fastened to the car and correctly adjusted for your child.
  • Plan for regular breaks and expect unscheduled stops, for example, for nappy changes and bathroom breaks.
  • Make sure to bring plenty of snacks and bottles of water so your child can eat and drink along the way.
  • Bring some of your child's favourite toys and books to help keep them entertained in the car.
  • Allow yourself lots of time to travel — you may also want to check real-time information on traffic jams, road conditions and closures.

What is the best way to keep my child safe in the car?

The best way to keep your child safe in the car is to use a car seat that's suitable for your child's age and size and making sure it's properly installed.

All seats need to be approved, properly fastened and correctly adjusted so your baby can travel safely.

  • According to Australian law, there are rules for keeping children safe in cars:
  • Babies under 6 months of age must be seated in a rearward (back)-facing child restraint, with an inbuilt harness.
  • Children between the ages of 6 months and 4 years must travel in a rearward-facing or forward-facing child restraint with an inbuilt harness.
  • Children aged from 4 to 7 years must travel in a forward-facing child restraint, with an inbuilt harness, or a booster seat with a seatbelt or child safety harness.
  • Toddlers must not travel in the front seat of a vehicle with 2 or more rows.

Find out more about car seats and car safety.

Start driving only after everyone is buckled up properly.

Preparation for the journey

When to travel

Some people find travelling at certain times of the day easier than at other times. It depends on a few factors, including your child's personality and their routine.

Some people like leaving early in the morning to beat the traffic, and to drive as far as possible before their child gets restless. Families with a child who sleeps well in the car may prefer starting their trip around or just before naptime. Other families like to begin to drive around their child's bedtime, so that they sleep for most of the way. Your decision might depend on how easily you think your child will transfer out of the car and into their bed once you've arrived.

Plan for regular breaks

Travelling with a child by car will take longer than travelling with adults. Plan for regular breaks (aim for 1 break around every 2 hours of car travel) and expect unscheduled stops, such as for nappy changes and bathroom breaks.

Children shouldn't spend long periods of time in their car seat. During stops, it's a good idea to put your baby on a rug on the ground so that they can stretch their legs and move around or kick. Older children may enjoy running around to burn off some energy.

If your child is sleeping as you reach your destination, always take them out of the car, even if it means waking them up. Never leave your child in a car without an adult.

Food and drink on the trip

If you have a baby and you breastfeed, remember to stop to offer feeds more often, especially if it is hot. Your baby may get more hot and thirsty than usual while strapped into their car seat.

It is not safe to breastfeed in a moving car, so make sure you stop and feed your baby safely.

If your baby drinks infant formula, take the formula powder and cooled boiled water with you so that you can prepare feeds on the trip. If your baby eats solids, you can also pack simple snacks and water.

If you have an older child, make sure to bring plenty of snacks and bottles of water so they can eat and drink along the way.

Sun protection

If it's sunny, use a window shade on the window near your child's car seat, or hang a damp towel over the window to provide shade. Don't cover a baby capsule with a blanket, even a light one. This can restrict air movement around your child and cause them to overheat.

Keep your child occupied

Here are some tips for keeping your baby or child busy during car journeys:

  • Bring some of your child's favourite toys and books to help keep them entertained in the car.
  • On long trips, give them toys one item at a time to help your child stay occupied.
  • Have a few new items in your bag as well, in case your child gets bored with familiar ones.
  • Singing and music may also help keep your baby occupied.

What to pack

Writing a checklist can help reduce any worries you might have about preparing for your trip.

Here's what you may want to pack for your child:

  • items to prepare formula feeds for babies (including cooled, boiled water, bottles and formula powder)
  • non-messy, healthy snacks (that do not pose a choking risk)
  • your child's water bottle
  • toys, books, talking books or music
  • a tablet or portable DVD player for limited screen time
  • wipes, nappies and a spare change of clothes
  • anything else that can help comfort your child, such as a dummy, favourite toy or blanket

Singing and playing simple games can also help to pass the time.

Allow plenty of time for travel

When travelling with a child, you may find you need to stop more often or for longer than planned. Allow yourself lots of time to travel. Never drive too fast to make up for lost time. You may also want to check real-time information on traffic jams, road conditions and closures.

Avoiding or managing car sickness

If your child suffers from car sickness, bring plenty of spare clothes, wipes and a plastic bucket with you, in case they vomit. You can also ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice before travelling.

During the trip, offer small amounts of food regularly instead of a large meal. Help avoid car sickness by encouraging your toddler to look out at the horizon or distract them with singing or games.

Resources and support

Before you set out on your drive, check the traffic information with the following services:

Some phone applications ('Apps') allow you to check for expected traffic jams or road closures ahead of time.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2023

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Need more information?

Car safety guide for babies and children | Raising Children Network

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Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

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