Buckling Up Kids in an RV

How one family with young children makes RV seat belts work.

Bryanna Royal  |  06.14.2017

Hitting the road with your kids or grandkids sounds like a great adventure and an amazing family trip. Then you start looking at the logistics and realize that RVs aren’t really made for kids’ car seats.

Sure, back in the day, kids would just run around the RV and climb up on the beds and basically play while their parents or grandparents drove down the road. In this day and age, that is not what people do. There are many more people on the roads now. And with so much access to online media, you constantly see images of the bad things that can happen.

Don’t worry, there is a solution – or at least a way that we have figured out to make it work.

Please note: I am not a professional and nothing I share here has been approved by anyone official. This is just our journey through coming up with a solution, so we can travel full time with our young kids in a motorhome (not a truck and trailer).

The Motorhome

Prior to purchasing any of our motorhomes, one of the main criteria was that it had to come with enough seat belts for our whole family. In our case, that meant six. Yes, there are aftermarket ways you can get them installed. But we didn’t want to deal with the hassle and felt much better going with a motorhome that had factory installed seat belts.

Take note: Just because a motorhome has a booth in it DOES NOT mean that there are four seat belts. There are times when a water tank is located under a seat or the manufacturer did not add a seat belt to each seat at the booth for another reason.

We originally had a large, 39-foot diesel pusher motorhome. In this case, we were one of the largest vehicles on the road, so we were okay with the kids’ car seats sitting on the sideways facing couch – as long as all the car seats could be buckled into a lap belt.

We also made sure that each kid had a five-point harness car seat – even our then 8-year-old, who we had to find a special car seat for that could hold his weight (they are out there!). The lap belt held the car seat in place, and the five-point harness held the kid in place.

Is a lap belt the best bet for installing a car seat? No. Would we rather have a shoulder-strap car seat? Yes. Are there RVs with seats in the back with shoulder belts? No. This was our only option.

When we decided to downsize to a smaller rig – a Class C, 23-foot Winnebago View – we decided that we were no longer comfortable with the sideways facing couch, but instead wanted a table setup. This way two kids could face backward and two forward.

Choosing the car seat over a harness

When we downsized to the Class C, we thought about adding in a harness seat belt – similar to a race car driver’s seat belt. We went down this path and talked to one of the owners of a company that sells this kind of seat belt for people looking for an option other than a car seat.

He actually talked us out of buying his product and instead recommended we stick with the five-point harness car seats and the lap belt. After being a firefighter for many years, he saw a lot of reasons for car seat failure.

Here were his reasons:

• You don’t want to tether a belt down to the floor when it doesn’t have the solid support of a car bucket seat behind it. He said it could have a negative impact if it were only connected with an RV bench seat (which is made of wood) behind it. The reason being, it could put added pressure on the child, since the seat is not strong enough.

• Five-point harness car seats are safety tested with only a lap belt.

• The majority of automobile accidents occur in residential areas. The fact that the RV was a larger vehicle on the road meant that it was more likely for someone to see it coming and in turn, less likely to get into an accident.

• In a head-on collision or a rear-end accident that the kids being in a five-point harness in a forward or rear facing seat were going to be almost as safe as in a car with shoulder belts and tethers. Maybe even more so, since the RV is larger.

• If you are in an accident on the highway – no matter what you are driving – the main goal is staying in the vehicle and not being thrown from it, he explained. With a five-point harness seat and a seat belt, you should be secure in the vehicle.

What about a child who is too big for a five-point harness car seat?

Our oldest is now too heavy for his car seat – granted he is on the larger end of the scale, so your 9-year-old may still be within the range of a five-point harness car seat. This left us with a dilemma to figure out where he could sit.

After talking with the same gentleman mentioned above, we made the decision that our 9-year-old would ride in the front passenger seat. This meant he would have a shoulder belt. I (the Mom) would ride in the back at the booth with the kids with just a lap belt.

The reasoning for this is the more developed your pelvis area is, the safer it is with just a lap belt. Plus, I am taller than him, so the lap belt hits my body at a better place than his.

Is any of this the perfect solution? No. Can we hope RV manufacturers will start to seriously look at car seat safety in RVs and design models with this in mind? For sure! But for the time being, this situation is working for us and we feel comfortable with our kids riding in the RV in their five-point harness car seat if:

• In a large motorhome, they have a lap belt holding the five-point harness car seat down.

• In a smaller Class C, they are forward or backward facing with a lap belt holding the five-point harness car seat down.

• They meet the weight and height restrictions of the five-point harness car seat.

• We drive carefully and cautiously on the road and stay at 65 mph or under.

Here is a video of us putting the car seats into the Class A motorhome (it starts at 42 seconds): https://youtu.be/dGe4BXu9LYk

For more information about the five-point harness car seat that we have for our kids, click here. Be sure to read about the weight. This one is good in harness mode up to 90 pounds and 58 inches in height. It goes higher in booster mode, when the seat belt is used.


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9 Comments

  1. Rebecca Posted on 11.18.2017

    Thanks for the article! I have been wrestling with this issue for years since we bought our 24 foot class C (former rental from Cruise America) and we only have 1 kid! Can’t imagine trying to configure for 4. Our RV only has one “latch” tether, so that’s where she sits, in a car seat with 5 point harness. Unfortunately, she’s now reaching the weight limit (and has exceeded the height limit already) at 9 years old and I’ve come to the same conclusion that you did-she will move to the front passenger seat and I will move back to the bench seat of the dinette (facing forward). I’m not thrilled about this, and I continue to look for other options, but haven’t come up with anything so far… The bench seat is much less comfortable than a bucket seat and, there are certain co-pilot functions that I’m not sure she is able to or wants to do. But, it seems to be the safest option (for her).

  2. Jennifer Posted on 07.26.2017

    Hi there, I’ve been struggling with what’s best for my family and am looking into taking out the dinette seats and replacing with bus seats that are bolted to the frame. I’m thinking I could either use a portable 5-pt harness that’s secured to the bus seat, or get the newer seats that have integrated child restraints. Did you look into this at all? I’m trying to determine if it’s feasible and/or affordable. Of course that means coming up with a solution to the table conversion problem afterward. One thing at a time…

  3. Tamerlane Posted on 07.17.2017

    For the two boys facing rearward I a concerned about “gear adrift” projectiles such as the dog impacting them in a head on collision. Many things that are bolted down like overhead cupboards manage to break loose and fly forward in head on collisions. The little girl is protected from that by the back of her carseat.

    Thanks for the article, we have 5 kids in our class a diesel pusher and are still working on crash safety solutions.

  4. Robyn Silberstein Posted on 06.28.2017

    Thank you for the article. It is frustrating that there are insufficient seat buckles, but when I asked Winnebago about that for the View they replied (which makes sense) the issue was weight and balance.

  5. David Karol Posted on 06.26.2017

    Great comments and experience.

  6. Vonda Klein Posted on 06.25.2017

    Thanks for the insight. We have a 28 foot Itasca class C. Our dinette has a single anchor in the floor behind the forward facing bench. This helps secure the 5 point booster seat our grandson uses. The biggest issue we will have soon is that his legs won’t fit under the table that is permanently secured to the wall…plan to just put it down like we’re making the bed and let his legs extend.

  7. CW4 TOMMY SCHMITT Posted on 06.24.2017

    SAFETY IS PARAMOUNT TO PRACTICAL. HOW DO DMV COUNTRY WIDE RULES ALLOW NO SEAT BELTS IN BUSSES? PRACTICAL THEN RULES AS DMV RULES APPLY.
    US ARMY RETIRED

  8. Kathy Posted on 06.24.2017

    Thanks!!! We are taking kids and Grand-kids to Disneyland in our RV in December. Probably would not have thought about the car seat issue until the last minute as our other G-Kids who have traveled with us are older. Very helpful :)

  9. Steve and Jen Posted on 06.24.2017

    Great article! And we could not agree more, manufacturers need to start realizing that many of these are family vehicles and families want to be safe on the road. We have 4 kids that are 4 and under. We are on our 3rd RV. Mom is a pediatric ICU nurse so safety reaches all time heights. We are now in a Winnebago Forza and love it!!!! We buckle the 4 car seats in the dining booth. Installing is not bad and we feel that the lap belt actually provides a tighter fit than the shoulder belt in the 3rd row of our 2016 Suburban. We have not found the perfect RV for child car seats, but you can be safe with proper buckling and thoughtful driving. One tip may be to take your RV and car seats to the local fire station for a lesson on proper buckling. Enjoy the open road with your kiddos.