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Asking this one anonymously, I don't want the police coming round to arrest me!

In a few weeks, we've got a long drive to go on vacation. Because our youngest is pretty unbearable on long car journies, we're intending to drive by night. The problem is that sitting up in their car seats, they're very uncomfortable, their heads roll around everytime we go round a corner, and also I'm not too sure how safe they are with their necks totally relaxed like that, in case of a collision.

So... what I'm wondering about is waiting till they're sleeping, and then lying them down 'somehow': possibly by putting the seats flat and then stacking up the luggage first, then them behind - that way there's the luggage between them and the front seats, and no luggage behind to pile up on them.

Legalities aside, is there any way to do this 'safely'?

(Ages 3 & 6)

UPDATE (Lost my cookie, so doing anonymous edit): in the end, this was completely irrelevant, we put them in the car at 2 in the morning, and they nattered happily until about 6 when the youngest nodded off (still in her car seat). Seems that she got past the 'awkward' stage, so the return journey was in the day time, and no problems at all. Thanks to all, and especially to Swati for the direct personal account.

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We have several 3 different car seats and I noticed that they are not equal when it comes to sleeping and head positioning. I find that Britax Roundabout is much more comfortable for sleeping than Eddie Bauer car seat and Graco booster for my son. However I saw another older bigger kid sleeping in Graco booster and he looked quite comfortable. –  jny Jun 9 '11 at 13:43

5 Answers 5

up vote 18 down vote accepted

No, there is no way to safely do what you describe. Please keep your children in their seatbelts and child seats at all times. I understand what you're trying to achieve, but even if you find a working solution, the risks are immense.

Sitting upright with a relaxed head in a collision is safe. So to speak, if the head has already fallen forward before you hit that tree, then the head will have less chance to accelerate during the crash. What I mean to say is: children sleeping is not a safety concern as long as they're in their seatbelts / child seats.

Granted -- it doesn't look comfortable, but that's another matter. Don't replace safety with comfort.

Your suggested placement of the luggage and the children assumes a frontal collision, but what you may not realize is that during a frontal collision, items will not only move forward but also upward, so your kids would essentially come flying over your heads, in between flying luggage.

Also, your suggestion only addresses frontal collisions, but there are many other kinds. Side impact, or even tumbling headlong or sidelong down a slope. Don't begin to imagine what happens then, it's not good.


What you can do is work with the children in their seatbelts: inflatable neck pillows do help some, though it's not a perfect solution. Some child seats can also be tilted backward (actually the seat moves forward but the shoulders stay back) which may keep the head from falling forward. If the children don't have child seats, try a pillow in the back, in essence to move the shoulders forward a little bit so that the head can fall a little further back (so it won't fall forward).

Alternatively, let them figure it out by themselves. Either they'll find a comfortable position half asleep, or they might stay awake.

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+1 for mentioning the non-frontal collisions and other possibilities of accidents. –  BBM Jun 9 '11 at 11:05
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Thanks, you've convinced me, I hope it'll convince my wife too (she said "just drive carefully" :) –  Anonymouse Jun 9 '11 at 11:25
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To help convince your wife, remember this: any moron can get his hands on car keys, and most do. Even if you're the best and safest driver in the world and wouldn't make a mistake in a million miles, chances are high that you'll get hit by any one of those morons. If you're lucky, that moron is driving a small car. If you're unlucky, he's drunk-driving a 20-ton lorry toward you - and he just fell asleep... Traffic is dangerous, regardless how careful you are! –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 9 '11 at 11:49
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Kids fall asleep in the weirdest positions if they are tired enough, I know I did when I was young. I wouldn't worry about it and with some neck pillows you should be fine. I'd worry more about ME staying up all night driving, that's more scary to me than the kids. Still I think you'd be fine with the car seats, or when we do long drive trips we just make stops now and again to le the kids stretch their legs. –  MichaelF Jun 9 '11 at 12:21
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I was involved, and injured in a car accident when I was 5 years old. My parents, to allow me to sleep comfortably, let me lie down in the car's back seat. As my dad was driving along, he braked as a motorcyclist came out of "nowhere" to make a left turn (in front of him) as he was going straight. My dad braked hard as to not him. I ended up getting hit by something when he braked. Started bleeding, lost conscience - had to be rushed to the hospital. Don't underestimate the safety of child car seats. They are not a propaganda or for over-cautious parents. They serve a real purpose. –  Swati Jun 9 '11 at 14:54

No way I would (or you should) let the children lie in the car without seat belt or even put them between luggage, which could move and sqash them in case of an accident.

And - as torgengb correctly remarks, there are many alternatives to a frontal collision with very different effect on deformation of the car and movements of luggage and people inside!

And even if the luggage is in front of them as long as you drive normally, you can never know what happens in case of a crash, as you can not guarantee that everything is fixed so tightly at its position that it can impossibly move during an accident!

-> The solution with the least risk for injury are the child seats!


what you can do is

  • use pillows to support the neck
  • incline the child seat in a sleeping position, if it has one
  • try to split up the long journey by making a stop somewhere
  • be careful to avoid accidents (although you use the child seats)

If your child seats are so uncomfortable, maybe you can borrow a more comfortable seat just for the duration of the trip? At our national automobile club (in Germany) it is possible to borrow child seats for some days or weeks. (However, I fear that it might not be much cheaper than buying one, if its not only for one or two days.)

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Altough my parents drove me everywhere whitout even a seatbelt, I would be very nervous driving my children around just lying in the back like that. If you've ever seen these awful fearmongering crash test dummy movies, you will realise in the case of a serious accident everything, luggage, children, any loose object,... will fly everywhere.

For the youngest: I would keep him in the car seat. My child is about the same age and she seems to sleep quite well and comfortable in her carseat if she has a little cushion to put around the back of her head to support her neck and the sides of her head. There's also a lot less painful looking 'wobbling' of her head. I don't know if she would stay comfortable a whole night though.

I can't help you with the six year old, I'm afraid.

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The issue of the kids has been well addressed. That being said, remember the dangers of reclining the front seats. This article was published in Slate a while ago about the added risks of reclined seats during a collision.

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There is a new product that has just launched at Kickstarter. It is called Pillo-Guard. It is a better solution than neck pillow.

Pillo-Guard has pillow on each side to provide a complete support and comfort. It is convenience, and it is not intrusive – doesn’t restrict your child’s movement while they are awake.

Check it out: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/952746349/pillo-guard-a-portable-head-support

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