Car travel, safe and happy

Car travel, safe and funSummer is a great time for families to take road trips and car adventures. Keep your highway adventures safe and fun with our road trip tips.  

Heat Watch

Heat stroke is a major concern for children in cars. Heat stroke occurs when a body’s core temperature is dangerously high because it is unable to cool itself quickly enough. Physically, adults will not experience the same intense body heating as a child will. Children’s bodies heat nearly five times faster than those of average adults. For this reason, it is extremely important that parents never leave a child alone in a car.  While this is especially important during warm months, the warning rings true year round. Even when it doesn’t seem very hot out, a parked car is an unsafe place for a child. Heat levels rise exponentially in closed cars. While it may be only 75 degrees outside, the temperature inside a closed car can increase by up to 20 degrees in just ten minutes. While you are grabbing that bottle of water at the gas station or running quickly into the bank, your child could experience heat levels that are unhealthy for their bodies.

The Trauma Prevention Specialists at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital recommend following the safety tips from Safe Kids USA:

  • Never leave your child alone in a car
  • Lock unattended vehicles, including trunks, so that playing children cannot become trapped inside
  • Everyone has days that seem to be a busy blur. Sometimes, a quiet child can be accidentally left behind because of a change in routine. Establish plans with your child’s caretakers to prevent this. Try leaving important items like your purse or phone next to the child in the back seat so you have to open the back door to leave. Setting a reminder alarm to go to daycare or establishing a routine of checking in with a friend, spouse or other caretaker of the child when they are dropped off could also help.
  • Take action if you see an unattended child in a vehicle by dialing 911 and following the emergency personnel’s instructions.

Learn more about car seat safety and find local fit check stations.

Fun on Wheels

We know preventing heat stroke isn’t the only travel challenge on your mind. For little ones on long car rides, entertainment is a must. Here are a few games and ideas to make the car ride as fun as it is safe.

I Spy in a jarI Spy…in a jar!

I Spy is a go-to car game. But, the I Spy Jar is a twist that allows your child to play independently. Find about 12 small objects (toys or household objects work great) that your child will identify. Either write a list of the objects on a sheet of paper, or create a card featuring a picture of each object. Place the objects in a large mason jar (or try an old spaghetti sauce jar) and cover with raw rice. Shake generously, so the objects become hidden within the rice. Have your child shake and look to find each of the objects, checking items off the list as they go.


If your child likes to play with the magnetic letters on the fridge at home, don’t leave them behind! Throw them on a cookie sheet and you have all the fun to-go. You can even expand the collection to make up new games together by using things like magnetic playing cards or magnets attached to toy characters.

Countdown to a surprise

Especially for younger children, new and interesting toys can offer just the distraction needed to get through a long car ride. Before your trip, prepare a series of surprises. These could be small toys, a dry healthy snack, an activity book, game idea, or new object to discover. Try including something that pertains to the destination you’re heading toward, so you can talk about why you’re going and what to expect. Put each in a bag and explain to your child that every hour or every 50 miles (whatever amount will help stretch your road trip) you can open up a new surprise together. It will make the hours pass and can help create an opportunity to learn together by talking about each surprise.

Make-your-own dry erase activity book

If your kids enjoy puzzles like word searches, picture hunts or crosswords, making your own activity book can be a great option. There are many places online to find free, age appropriate activities for kids. Print out those that seem to fit your child best. Put them inside a binder that has an insert sleeve. Have your child slip a new page in each time, using a dry erase or special marker to draw answers on the outside cover. It will be a fun change from their regular books, and can be updated as often as you’d like.

For more travel tips and tricks, read our post from Dr. Goodson — pediatrician, mother and world traveler.

What are your secrets to successful travels?  Share your tips with other parents in our comments section, below!


This article is part of a six-week series of summer activity ideas, healthy recipes, and safety tips for Camp Little Victors: Virtual summer camp, real summer fun. We hope you can use this and other articles in the series from physicians and staff at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital to make this a happy and health summer break for your family. Enroll now!


University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” including #4 in the country for heart and heart surgery. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.