We all know the struggle to get out of the door with a family. From making sure their shoes are on the right feet to last minute trips to the toilet, it can be chaotic. So things like checking the car has enough petrol and the tyres are fully inflated can be easily forgotten.
But when it comes to travelling with your family, it’s important to make sure you’ve done everything you can to keep you all safe on the road. From the checks you can do before you even leave your home, to the emergency supplies you can store in your car to prepare for all eventualities, these little steps can make a big difference when it comes to family road safety.
So what can you do to ensure you and your family are safe when out and about? To find out, we scoured the Mumsnet forums for advice from parents who’ve travelled plenty of miles with their children, as well as consulting road safety experts to compile a list of tried and tested tips for keeping your family safe on the road.
1. Check your car is in working order
“You should be checking the oil level at least once a month anyway, without relying on lights, but it totally depends on the car how much oil it uses. A lot of newish cars don't need any extra oil between services, but some older cars need regular top ups.” BarbaraofSeville
Before you set off on a journey, especially longer trips, give your car a basic safety check. Check that things like the windscreen fluid is topped up and you have enough oil and fuel to prevent any unnecessary breakdowns and delays. The last thing you want is to be stuck by the side of the motorway with young children!
Allow time to check that everything is working properly too - this includes your lights and windscreen wipers. A working car is much safer on the road and you can set off with peace of mind knowing you’ve done all you can to prevent any hold-ups.
2. Check your tyres
“Your tyres are the only bit of the car that touch the road. You should be checking them regularly (weekly) to ensure they have sufficient tread (use a 20p coin to check), the right pressure and no nails/cuts/signs of puncture. Waiting for the car to tell you/a service/MOT to do this could be fatal.” Mumsnet user
It’s also really important to check your tyres. Look for signs of bulging, cuts and tears to the tyre wall and make sure they have a minimum tread depth of 1.6 mm. They should also be properly inflated, not only to ensure your car is safe on the road but to save you money in the long run too. This is because underinflated tyres require a bigger force to make them turn, leading vehicles to consume more fuel.
They may also not last as long and tyres with insufficient air are more likely to suffer from a sudden rapid deflation and premature wear on the outer edges of the tyres. Crucially though, tyres that are 20% underinflated are considered dangerous and can affect the car when braking and taking corners. This puts you more at risk of an accident, especially on high-speed motorways.
In February 2020, Heather Pinn was on the way to meet her friend with her baby daughter when she was involved in a devastating accident. The weather was poor, with high winds, sleet and rain and a car suddenly appeared from around a corner on the wrong side of the road. The accident happened very quickly and although Heather and her daughter both escaped the crash unharmed, the driver of the other car, Megan, 22, died at the scene.
Both drivers had been driving the speed limit and wearing seat belts, but it was discovered that two of the tyres on Megan’s car were underinflated and this was a major contributory factor in the crash. Megan’s parents have been left devastated and Heather struggles with guilt on a daily basis, as well as physical pain, depression and fears of sudden loud noises.
Heather said: “Check your tyres, please, please check your tyres. Since I have gotten back to driving, I do it when I fuel up, once a month. Check them before long journeys. It’s so important, and if somebody else’s life can be saved because of this then that’s all we can ask.”
As tyres are a vehicle’s only contact point with the road, they need to be in good, roadworthy condition to reduce the risk of being involved in an incident. The charity, TyreSafe, recommends checking your tyres once a month and before long journeys. It’s best to do this when the tyres are cold and using an accurate pressure gauge. You can find the correct pressures for your tyres inside the fuel filler cap or in one of the front door sills, or you can search for your car using the charity’s handy Tyre Pressure tool.
3. Drive safely
It may sound obvious, but one of the best things you can do to keep your family safe on the road is to make sure you are driving safely. You can’t control what others do on the road but you can control how you behave.
This means knowing what the relevant speed limit is and sticking to it, not driving when under the influence of drugs or alcohol and removing any chance of distraction, such as mobile phones. Also, try to keep at least two to four seconds between you and the car in front of you so you have enough time to react if anything happens.
4. Belt up!
“Seat belt fitted seats are just as safe as Isofix if fitted correctly (obviously Isofix seats are easier to fit). So check the manual (hopefully your friend gave you the manual?!) and the YouTube installation videos. And do it again.” NameChange30
Wearing a seat belt is not only a legal requirement for all passengers but is one of the best ways of securing everyone’s safety if an accident does happen. Before you set off, make sure everyone is safely buckled in and any car seats are properly secured.
Children must use a child car seat until they are 12 years old, or 135cm tall, whichever comes first. Make sure to use the right car seat for your child’s age, weight, and height. Also, check that it is installed correctly, whether it’s using Isofix connectors or a seat belt. If you’re not sure, check the user manual and look for Youtube videos showing you how. It’s also advised to remove any bulking clothing from your child in as it can affect how securely your child is strapped in.
5. Keep emergency supplies in your boot
“In the boot I have a picnic mat, 2x foil blanket, spare shoes, small bottle of water, basic first aid, a torch. In the glove box I have emergency period stuff, pen and paper, gum, some cereal bars, de-icer and scraper, £5.” MrsSpringfield
Stock up your car with emergency supplies so you can keep safe, warm and fed if you do end up breaking down. Our Mumsnet users recommend everything from spare nappies and granola bars, to bottles of water and a picnic blanket to help you prepare for the worst.
The RAC recommends having things like a first aid kit, warm blankets, an ice scraper, a high-vis jacket and a torch in your car boot in case of an emergency. While it’s important to try and prevent breakdowns, it’s equally as important to keep your family safe in case you do get stranded. When travelling with children, plenty of snacks and drinks will also be very beneficial if you end up waiting for breakdown assistance for a long time.
6. Take breaks on long journeys
“With a very young baby I'd have a break and take them out of the car seat at least once during that 3hr journey.” MoreCookiesPlease
If you’re driving for a long time, make sure to schedule in breaks. It can be tempting to just power on through and get to your destination as quickly as you can, but stopping helps prevent fatigue at the wheel and will give your children a break from sitting for long periods of time.
This is especially important if you’re travelling with young babies. Safety experts and car seat manufacturers advise against babies being in a car seat for longer than two hours at a time. This is because babies and young children can experience breathing problems if placed in a seated or scrunched position for too long.
Stopping regularly will allow you to stretch your legs and check on your baby, and give older children a chance to burn off some of their energy.
7. Keep the children entertained
“Snacks, iPad, books, activity books, pens, stickers, literally anything that will keep them occupied. Make them a basket each with all their stuff in so you or DP won’t have to constantly pass things as they are all at hand.” Moonshine11
We all know how hard it is to concentrate on the road when you’re being asked a million-and-one questions from your children. From snack requests to fighting over what music to listen to, even the shortest of journeys can be chaotic if children aren’t kept occupied.
To limit interruptions, especially on longer journeys, bring along items that will keep them busy and quiet so you can concentrate on the road. This could be colouring books, a tablet, a book for them to read or audiobooks for younger children. Make sure they have access to water and snacks too so you don’t have to keep stopping or passing things to them. Also, activating child locks on the windows and cars will prevent any surprises when little hands start exploring the car if boredom does kick in.
8. Make sure you’re well and rested
Driving safely means concentrating on the road and being alert to what is going on around you so if you get behind the wheel when you’re feeling tired or unwell, it can seriously hamper your driving.
One in five accidents on major roads are caused by tiredness, with one in eight UK drivers admitting to falling asleep at the wheel. If you drive when you’re sick, your reactions and concentration can be affected too.
Before long journeys, aim to get a good night's sleep and if you do start to feel tired when in the car, stop somewhere safe and drink two cups of coffee or a caffeinated drink and take a short nap. Avoid eating heavy meals or taking part in strenuous exercise before driving long journeys as this can make you feel sleepy.
About the author
Gemma Wilcock is a freelance parent journalist and writer with over 15 years of experience writing for national magazine and online publications, including Prima Baby, Woman's Own and Bella.
She has researched and written baby and child product reviews and round-ups for Mumsnet for over six years - reviewing everything from buggies to baby bouncers. As a mum of two, knows just how important first-hand parenting knowledge and recommendations can be.