Winter travel tips and car safety for special needs parents: A Loving Journey

With the extra-cold weather many parts of the country are experiencing, parents and caregivers should take a refresher course on how to travel safely with bundled-up children. The same, of course, goes for special needs parents.

Winter weather can lead to injury and illness, but it can also just make for a bad day, especially when you’re on the road.

So, what happens when you are on the long haul to a children’s hospital with your child and have car trouble? Or when a trip to the mall with your family takes twice as long as usual because of the inclement weather? Or when that pesky tire goes flat just as you leave home to take the kids to school?

Be prepared for all travel situations this winter season with these simple tips.

– Always have spare water, blankets and a roadside assistance kit in your vehicle.

– Remember to fully charge your cellphone before leaving. (And don’t forget to bring your cellphone!)

– Have roadside assistance available for your vehicle. Verizon and OnStar are good companies to look at.

– If your car slides off the road, don’t get out of it to check for damage. Stay inside with your safety belts fastened and wait for emergency personnel to come to the scene, as you could be hit by other vehicles struggling on that same dangerous road.

– As you drive, make mental notes of what mile marker you are passing. That way, you can easily tell emergency responders where you are in the event that you are stranded or have a medical emergency.

– If you need to change a tire on the roadside, limit your time spent out in the cold. Take a break inside your warm car to avoid frostbite.

-Keep extra medication and supplies in your vehicle if you are traveling a distance with your special needs child, just in case you are detoured or have to stay overnight in a hotel to get out of the weather.

-Pack extra snacks, activities and games for kids in case you have to wait on the side of the road during a storm.

– Keep an eye on the ever-changing weather so you will know before you travel if there are road closings and delays.

-Warm up your car 15 minutes in advance. Consider installing a remote starter in your car so you don’t have to go outside to start the defrosting process. (note, it is a violation of state law to warm up your car unattended, unless it is locked.)

– Dress your children in thin layers. Kids need to be layered well. With it being so cold out, kids can’t be in their car seat in just a long sleeve shirt and an undershirt, they will be too cold.

– A thin, tight-fitting fleece jacket is OK for car-seat travel. Avoid bulky coats, snowsuits, or even bulky scarves when kids are traveling in their car seat. Bulky coats on kids while they’re restrained in their car seat is very dangerous and can lead to injury if the coat interferes with a snug fit on the car seat straps.

– Make sure the child is wearing 3-4 thin, tight layers UNDER the car seat straps – and then cover them with a blanket, or put their winter coat on backwards OVER the car seat straps. There are also great wheelchair blankets out there that will fit nicely over your child in their wheelchair or special needs car seat.

– If it’s extra cold out, wrap a warm blanket around your child before walking them to the car. Use the same warm blanket on top of the harness after the child is strapped in. Use the blanket again when taking your child out of the car.

– For extra safety measures, check with the manufacturer of your car seat for all safety protocols and instructions.

Trish Schaeffer is a mom of three boys—two with special needs—and a blogger for Central Penn Parent. Follow her at You can follow Trish on Twitter @Alovingjourney and on her Facebook group A Loving Journey-Parents of special needs kids.

Sign up for Central Penn Parent's Capabilities Newsletter! The Capabilities Newsletter is a monthly compilation of the top stories for parents of children with special needs.

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