Road Trip Tips

Road Trip Tips for Families

Whether you are buckling up your newborn or letting your teen behind the wheel for the first time, there are many things to remember before you yell, ‘Roooooooad Trip!’ and hit the road.

First and foremost, parents need to remember that they are driving role models.  Those backseat ‘drivers’ may seemingly be engaged in an Elmo sing-a-long, but rest assured that they are noticing what you do and say behind the wheel.  Your goal is to raise a safe and responsible driver and this starts from that first trip in the car with you.

Remember to follow these simple safety rules, as you are being watched by all of your passengers for compliance:  Always wear your seatbelt.  Make it a policy not to put the car in drive until everyone has ‘clicked’!   Put that cell phone out of reach and make a point of never texting, emailing or scrolling the screen while driving.  As of January 2021, it is illegal in Virginia to be holding a phone while driving.  Don’t eat or drink while driving.  Make it a point to demonstrate courtesy and respect on the road, never voicing frustration or anger with other drivers.

Remember to buckle up your youngest family members in correctly.  Make use of your vehicle integrated safety restraints, including the LATCH and tether system, required on all vehicles after September 1, 2002.  Note that many middle seats do not have this anchor system.  Be sure to install these anchors tightly and then periodically recheck them. Car seats save lives, but only if they are installed correctly! For more information on appropriate car seat selection and installation tips visit the PAR Car Seat Guidelines page or Car Seat Information For Families from

All infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car seat until they are at least age two years.  After this time, use a forward facing car seat for as long as possible.  Many are now rated for 80 pounds or over.  After they reach the height and weight limit for the convertible, forward-facing carseat, it may be time to consider moving your child to a belt positioning booster.  Please keep in mind your child’s age and maturity level when making this transition.  A four year old who is wiggly, falls asleep easily and slumps over in the seat, or who is easily distracted and may fidget with the restraints may not be the best candidate for a belt positioning booster.  It is important that your child will sit up and keep the lap and shoulder belts positioned correctly before making this transition.  Your child will be ready to ‘graduate’ from his or her booster seat when he is at least 4′ 9″ tall, and can sit with his back against the seat with feet completely touching the floor.   The safest place for all children younger than 13 to ride is in the back seat.

Keeping your kids entertained in the backseat doesn’t always need to involve a tablet, integrated DVD player or hand held gaming device.  Stock up on a supply of washable or ‘no mess’ markers and paper.  Have on hand a stash of toys that you can pull out to entertain when the whining starts-from toy cars to stuffed animals.  Print out lists for a game of landmark or license plate ‘I spy’.  Consider downloading audiobooks or podcasts for older children.   Enjoy this ‘captive’ family time to play guessing games or tell stories and jokes.

Once your teen is ready to ask for the keys, you will have had many years to demonstrate responsible driving.  Review with your teen specific rules for the road.  Have benchmarks that he or she must meet to earn additional driving privileges.  Spell these out in a ‘teen driving contract’.  An example from the CDC can be found here.   Be sure to spend lots of time in the car with your teen at the wheel, in many different driving conditions before letting them out on the road by themselves.  This includes driving in rainy weather, at night, in traffic and on the highway.  If your teen takes medications such as those for ADHD, be sure that he or she has been taking this medicine before getting behind the wheel.  Teach your teen the basics of car maintenance, including how to safely deal with a flat tire or overheated car.

Now it’s time to ‘get out on the open road’ and have many fun and safe family adventures.  Buckle up, stay alert and calm, and have a wonderful family road trip!!!