CPSTs should be prepared for a potential rise in RV interest among families. In a study published earlier this year, researchers compared the cost of visiting nine popular U.S. tourist destinations over three vacation durations. For every scenario, the researchers concluded that traveling by RV was significantly less expensive than trips involving other modes of transportation (planes, cars) or lodging (hotels, rental properties).
The study’s sponsors, the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) and Go RVing, are now touting these findings. In fact, families are prime targets for such marketing because the study found a family of four (parents and two children) could save as much as 60% by traveling this way. And, in a separate report, the RVIA notes that the largest and fastest-growing group of RV buyers are millennials and older Gen Zers—prime candidates for travel with young children.
A major fault of the study, however, is that it doesn’t account for the safe transport of children in any of the RV situations it promotes. As CPSTs know, RVs are far from child-friendly, as described on the next page. Nevertheless, it’s common for the risks to children riding in RVs to be ignored (and not surprising in a report funded by the RV industry).
Still, since it had been several years since SRN last reported on the topic of CPS in RVs (search RV at www.saferidenews.com), this cost-comparison report prompted me to review the most current information available to see if any policies, guidance, or regulations had changed.
Fortunately, there are some reliable resources CSPTs can turn to for information about CPS in RVs. I started by reviewing the statement about RVs in the harmonized statements from the Manufacturers Alliance for CPS. Other useful resources are the AAP’s Healthy Children website (search RV) and Pro Car Seat Safety.
These sources maintain that the rear of RVs is not suitable for CR installation (and front-seat installation comes with all the risks and warnings of any other vehicle). Naturally, they also point out that passengers in all motor vehicles should ride properly buckled—and, in some states, RVs are not exempt from COP law. Therefore, even when families travel by RV, they should arrange for children to ride properly in their regular CRs or boosters. This is an important first point to get across; despite what some caregivers might want to believe, no one is safe riding unrestrained in the living space of an RV. (The box below describes safety alternatives from Safe Kids Worldwide for families who travel with an RV.)
I wondered, though, if there are any new RV models with safer rear seat belt systems—ones made to voluntarily meet federal regulations, since their compliance is still not required. Of course, side-facing RV seats or seats with seat belts on flimsy benches still exist and are never suitable for children. But, some of the newer Class B RVs, for example, have two forward-facing, second-row captain’s chairs with seat belt systems. These smaller RVs (called conversion vans because they’re converted cargo or passenger vans, like a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter or Ram ProMaster) have recently surged in popularity, propelled by the pandemic. Could families turn to this option as a safer RV alternative for their kids who ride in CRs or boosters?
Unfortunately, I learned that even these second-row belts in Class B RVs are exempt from the safety regulations that apply to most other types of vehicles. So, no matter how “good” the belts might look, their safety can’t be ascertained by a visual inspection or how tightly a CR can be installed. With any belt system not regulated by FMVSS 208, there’s simply no guarantee that the entire safety restraint system—all components and anchorages—meets strength requirements for installing CRs. In fact, unregulated belt systems often have a weak link, such as at the anchorage points or the RV seat structure. Therefore, using the belt may provide only a false sense of security.
Bottom line: While it is possible for an RV maker to provide compliant seating and belt systems for rear RV passengers, caregivers should not assume they are compliant until proof is provided that they are. Sadly, gathering this proof can be a challenging process. Caregivers should not expect RV sales reps to be properly trained to provide accurate information on this topic (and be mindful of this fact, despite what a salesperson says on the sales lot). Instead, before using a seat belt on a forward-facing seat in the rear of an RV for a CR or booster, a caregiver should first contact the manufacturer’s customer service, provide the vehicle identification number (VIN), and ask whether rear belt systems meet federal regulations (FMVSS 208). If the answer is yes, ask to get that confirmation in writing. (SRN plans to do more research and will follow up if it finds an easier way to determine whether an RV’s seat belt system voluntarily meets federal standards.)
Even if a caregiver gets this assurance and installs a CR perfectly, they should understand that a typical RV still poses several safety risks to passengers. For instance, unlike other large vehicles, like school buses or motorcoaches, the structural integrity of an RV is unregulated. In an unregulated environment, virtually all manufacturers are pressured by price competition to make RVs using less-expensive, lightweight materials, like wood, fiberglass, and aluminum. In other words, normal assumptions equating the size of a vehicle with safety are unwarranted in the case of RVs.
Also, anyone in an RV is at risk of being injured by projectiles, from the coffeemaker to the contents of “locked” drawers to entire cabinets that can be ripped loose under crash forces—their attachment strength, again, being unregulated. Other RV features—notably tables—can also interact with passengers in a harmful way during a crash.
RVIA reports that nearly all RV models are made in America, meaning the industry is a major part of the U.S. economy and has marketing power and influence. It’s a good thing, then, that CPSTs have a nationwide presence as well and can educate the public—and lawmakers—on behalf of children riding in any vehicle. While an RV may indeed be a part of a family’s dream vacation, knowing all the facts will allow caregivers to make better-informed plans so everyone returns home safe and sound.
Reference: www.rvia.org; to find the study, select “2023 Vacation Cost Comparison Study” under Reports & Trends.
SKW on Good/Better/Best and RV Travel
When it comes to RVs, CPSTs are often put in the role of vacation party-poopers as they field questions from the public or prepare community safety messages. The conversation can be tricky—even normally cautious parents can lean toward wishful thinking when imagining the fun and convenience of a family vacation on wheels.
But families deserve to know the facts. CPSTs must be tactful, educate themselves, and stay up to date so they can speak knowledgeably on this topic. Communicating the “why” behind the warnings can be especially helpful.
Also, remember the CPS mantra of “good/better/best” when recommending alternatives. A Vacation Travel Safety training from Safe Kids Worldwide (https://training.safekids.org) provides the following examples of how to think in this way when it comes to family-traveling-by-RV scenarios. (Also, be sure to consult state child occupant protection laws, which must be followed.)
“While there is not a safe way to transport a child in an RV that has no seat belts, when seat belts are available, the caregiver should make sure to install the car seat on a vehicle seat that faces forward and use it according to the manufacturer’s instructions. While not completely ideal, this may be a good option given the circumstances.
A better option would be for the child to travel in a vehicle that is pulling a non-motorized towable trailer. This would allow the child to be properly restrained in a vehicle for the travel portion of the trip. Families should be aware of the dangers associated with towing a fifth wheel, trailer, pop-up camper, or other such RV, especially with an inexperienced driver.
The best option for a child and all members of the family would be to travel in a passenger vehicle that is not towing any type of RV. Motor vehicle crashes are already a leading killer of children in the U.S., and adding extra ways to increase the risk makes it more likely that a crash will occur.”