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Car travel with toddlers

3-minute read

Taking a car trip with your toddler can be challenging, especially if it’s a long journey. But if you follow a few guidelines before setting off, you will ensure your car trip is as safe and comfortable as possible.

Car seats

Before your car trip, ensure you are using a child car seat that is right for your toddler's height and weight. The seat needs to be approved, properly fastened and correctly adjusted for use.

If your toddler is aged under 4 years, they need to be 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, also 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.

Start driving only after everyone is buckled up properly.

Preparing 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 things, including your child and their routine.

Some people like leaving early in the morning to beat the traffic, and to drive as far as possible before their toddler gets restless. Families with a toddler who sleeps well in the car may prefer starting their trip around or just before naptime. Other families even travel around the toddler's bedtime so that their toddler sleeps for most of the way.

If you need to be at a certain place by a certain time, allow yourself plenty of time to get there. You may want to check real-time information on traffic jams, road conditions and closures so you know how long the trip is likely to take. This information can help you estimate how long your car trip would take.

Government traffic information is available on the following numbers:

Breaks

Young children usually find it hard to remain in their seats for long. Plan regular stops (about 1 break every 2 hours) to avoid your toddler becoming too restless. Stopping at the occasional park or playground allows your toddler to burn off some energy. Breaks also help the driver to avoid fatigue.

What to pack

Writing a checklist can help to reduce any worries about your preparations for the car trip.

Here's what you may want to have on hand in the car:

  • non-messy, healthy snacks (that are not choking risks)
  • your toddler's water bottle
  • toys, books, talking books, or music
  • crayons for colouring in
  • your toddler's favourite soft toy
  • a tablet or portable DVD player for limited screen time
  • wipes, nappies (if not toilet trained), and a spare change of clothes

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

Sun protection

If you travel during the day, seat your child on the shady side of the car. You can also use a sunshade on their car window.

Avoiding or managing car sickness

If your toddler gets car sickness, have spare clothes, wipes and a plastic bucket on hand in case they vomit. Consider getting advice from your doctor or pharmacist before travelling.

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

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

Last reviewed: April 2021


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Need more information?

Car safety guide for babies and children | Raising Children Network

Child car safety is easy. Use the right restraints and seat children appropriately. And if you keep kids happy, you can more easily concentrate on driving.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Travel with kids: car, plane, bus & train | Raising Children Network

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Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Car safety for babies

To be as safe as possible when travelling in cars, children and adults need to be using restraints or seat belts that are properly fitted and suited to the age and size of the person.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Child restraints - NT.GOV.AU

Guide to approved child restraints for vehicles.

Read more on NT Health website

Car seat use: How to use a child car seat safely and correctly | Parenthub

Once the car seat is installed, you will need to use it every time your child rides in the car. Correct car seat use is important for your child's safety.

Read more on Parenthub website

Advice on how to position and install car seats correctly | Parenthub

Where should a child car seat go? How do you put it in? Correct car seat installation is important for your child's safety.

Read more on Parenthub website

Travelling with kids

Travelling with your child can sometimes be challenging. It helps to plan for your travel and give yourself a longer time to get there.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Are There Recommendations for Car Seat or Baby Seat Use? | Red Nose Australia

Read more on Red Nose website

Travelling with children - Better Health Channel

betterhealth.vic.gov.au

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Motion sickness - MyDr.com.au

Many people eventually grow out of motion sickness (travel sickness), but for those who don’t there are treatments available and things you can do to help prevent it and ease the symptoms.

Read more on myDr website

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?

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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