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Safe Routes and Vehicle Safety

Your responsibility for a child’s safety begins before children even arrive at your program. It continues until children are safely under their families’ supervision. This lesson will help you ensure that safety rules and procedures are followed when children are around or transported in vehicles, on foot, on bike, or entering and exiting the bus as they are coming to your program or leaving for the day. It will also address how you can ensure children’s safety when you transport them.

  • Recognize safe procedures for arrival and departure.
  • Discuss with children how to travel safely to and from the program.
  • Select safety items for a vehicle safety kit.
  • Practice a daily pre-trip vehicle safety inspection.
  • Apply safety guidelines when transporting children.



Children may come to and leave your family child care program in different ways:

  • Depending on their age, they may walk to your home with or without their parent.
  • Their parents may drive and drop them off.
  • School-age children may arrive by bus after school.

Transportation-related injuries are a very real risk for young children. It is important to prepare for walkers, bus riders, bike riders, and those who are dropped off by car. Knowing and observing traffic safety rules are the first steps in preventing accidents. It is also important to develop and follow specific policies for how children arrive and depart from your program.

Drop-off and Pickup

It is very important to have a drop-off and pickup process. This helps ensure that:

  • children are physically safe around vehicles and traffic,
  • you have time to connect with families, and
  • you are fully aware and can adequately track all the children in your care and to whom they have been released (see Lesson Two, Ratios and Supervision).

What happens if several families arrive at once to drop off or pick up their children? Without a process, drop-off and pickup could become chaotic and cause traffic issues on nearby streets. Congestion and confusion can also lead to unsafe driving behaviors as drivers rush or become frustrated. The process that you develop for loading and unloading should be discussed and demonstrated with children, their families, and drivers.   

Vehicle Transportation

You may transport children for a variety of reasons, including daily transportation to and from your child care program or an occasional field trip. Regardless of how often you transport children, you need to know how to keep them safe on the road.

Driver Qualifications

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that drivers of vehicles transporting children should fit the following qualifications:

  • Be at least 21 years old.
  • Be licensed to drive the vehicle.
  • Have a safe driving record for at least five years.
  • Have no criminal record involving crimes against children or involving drugs or violence.
  • Have no medical conditions that impair the ability to drive.
  • Have taken no alcohol or prescription drugs within the previous twelve hours that would affect the ability to safely drive a vehicle.
  • Agree not to smoke in or near the vehicle.

Transportation Guidelines

According to the National Association for Family Child Care, if providers are transporting children in their own vehicle, they must adhere to the follwing guidelines:

  • All children under the age of 13 should ride in the back seat. Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers should never sit in the front seat of a vehicle.
  • Children are never left unattended in a vehicle.
  • Excluding public transportation, children use a car seat, belt positioning booster seat, or a seat belt approved for their height and weight. The car seat or booster has been properly installed according to the instructions of both the vehicle and manufacturers. See more information on the appropriate car seats for the children in your care at
  • The provider must be covered by insurance, including accident insurance for children and assistants (if employed), liability insurance, and vehicle insurance, if children are transported.

Getting all the children safely into, or out of, your vehicle can be one of the more significant challenges in family child care, especially if you work alone. So much can happen between leaving the door of your home to walk to the car and turning on the ignition to drive away. It only takes a moment, for example, while you are securing one child in a car seat, for another child to come into harm. Although it may seem simple, ensuring the safety of three active children by yourself, especially if you are parked near a street or in a busy parking lot, can be a dangerous process if you have not planned ahead.

Be strategic and think about the age and developmental level of children in your care:

  • How will you safely get the whole group of children to the car? Will you all hold hands on the way out?
  • How will you safely help each child in? Who will you help first? How will you ensure the safety of the children not yet secured in the car while you help each individual child? For example, if you have an infant carrier that latches into a car seat base, it may be safest to secure infants in their carriers inside your home, then you can easily place them in the car quickly. Then ask mobile preschoolers and toddlers to climb in the car to their respective car seats and securing their straps. It is best to first help young mobile children who may lack impulse control (e.g., older infants and young toddlers), as they may be the ones most likely to wander or run away from you. 
  • What rules will you establish to help children get safely from your home to the vehicle and from the vehicle to your destination? See Lesson Ten on Developing and Teaching Safety Rules for help on developing these. As you get new children in your program, make sure to review these important safety rules and practice vehicle safety procedures with them before making trips.  

Although it may be tempting to warm up the vehicle on cold days, it is unsafe to have the car running when children are not yet secured in the car and you are not behind the driving wheel. It is best to make sure each child is safely secured and strapped in the car before starting the vehicle. You should have a system in place to check each child before securing yourself.


Watch this video to learn what children should know about getting to and from your program.

Traveling Safely to Your Program

Emphasize safety whether children reach your program by foot, bike or vehicle.

Vehicle Safety

Safety items should be stored securely in a vehicle used to transport children. These items should be stored in a vehicle safety kit, only accessible to the driver or emergency responders. These include:

  • First-aid kit
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Seat-belt cutter
  • Maps
  • Charged cell phone
  • The name, address, and telephone number of the child care program
  • Emergency contact information for each child
  • Any prescribed medications for a particular child (breathing treatments, epinephrine injector, etc.)


Arrival and Departure

Pickup and drop-off can be risky times for children. It is important to supervise closely and help children learn how to be safe. If you are responsible for walking children to or from school or transporting them in your car, be sure to model good behavior by following traffic and pedestrian rules.

Teaching Children to Travel Safely

It is your responsibility to make sure children know how to reach your program safely. They may ride in a car or on a bus, walk, or ride a bike. Teach children safety guidelines for each mode of transportation. You can use books or appropriate educational media to help teach about transportation safety.

Monitor children’s compliance with safety guidelines. Talk to children about the importance of wearing helmets and following traffic laws.  

Vehicle Safety

You should conduct a daily pre-trip safety inspection, especially if others in your household use the vehicle you use to transport children. Make sure the vehicle is clean. There should not be any obstructions on the floor or seats. The Apply section contains a pre-trip inspection form. Note and correct any problems, such as low tire pressure or dirty windshields. Vehicle maintenance records, drivers’ license numbers, license-plate information, and insurance information should be stored on-site and in the vehicle as appropriate.

Child Safety

Keeping children safe in a moving vehicle is a serious matter and a major responsibility. Safety involves proper seating, vehicle conditions, transportation policies and procedures, and child behavior. The following guidelines will help you keep children safe:

  • Use appropriate car seats or child-restraint systems. Follow local, state, and federal laws.
  • Make sure you know how to install the seat correctly. Check that the seat is installed correctly and the child is secured correctly before the vehicle moves.
  • Never allow a child to sit in the front seat of a vehicle.
  • Replace a car seat if it has been recalled, is involved in an accident, or is beyond the manufacturer’s date of use.
  • Never leave a child alone in a vehicle.
  • Make sure the temperature is safe and comfortable. Children are not always dressed for the weather. Use the air conditioning if the internal temperature reaches 82°F. Use the heater if the internal temperature drops below 65°F.
  • Do a name-to-face count when children enter and exit the vehicle. Use your attendance sheet.
  • Check the vehicle to make sure no child has been left behind.
  • Lock the vehicle once you are sure no children are inside.
  • Teach children safety rules for transportation. These include wearing a seat belt and staying seated in their places.
  • Only pick up and drop off at the curb or at an off-street location.
  • Make sure a parent or guardian observes the pickup and drop-off procedures. Stay with the child until the parent or guardian verbally and physically takes responsibility for the child.
  • Record attendance and time of each pickup and drop off.
  • Take into account individual children’s special health, behavior, or mobility needs when planning where and how to secure children.


As children come and go from your program, there are threats that could make things unsafe. Review the Safe Travel Activity. Read the scenarios. Identify the threats related to different routes coming and going to your program. Then, brainstorm possible solutions. Share your responses with your trainer, coach, or family child care administrator. Then, compare your answers to the suggested responses.


Use the Vehicle Inspection form (or one provided by your state) to make sure your vehicle is safe for transporting children. In addition, share the National Safety Council resource Traveling to School Tips about safe travel to and from school with children and families.


Forward-Facing Safety Seat:
A child-safety restraint system that is positioned with the child’s face and body facing the front of the vehicle; it is always used in the back seat of a vehicle and is only safe for children over 20 pounds
Rear-facing safety seat:
A child-safety restraint system that is positioned with the child’s face and body facing the rear of the vehicle; it is always used in the back seat of a vehicle and is recommended until a child is 2 years old or exceeds the manufacturer’s weight limit


True or false? Preschool children do not need to be secured in a child-safety restraint system.
Which of the following is not part of a typical vehicle safety kit?
True or false? School-age children can be left alone in a vehicle as long as the air conditioning is running.
References & Resources

American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education. (2019). Caring for our children: National health and safety performance standards; Guidelines for early care and education programs (4th ed.). American Academy of Pediatrics. 

Council on Accreditation. (2020).  Standards for child and youth development (CYD) programs. Council on Accreditation Program Standards.

The National Association for Family Child Care Foundation. (2017). Quality standards for NAFCC accreditation (5th ed.). The National Association for Family Child Care Foundation. 

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2018). NAEYC early learning program accreditation standard and assessment items. National Association for the Education of Young Children. 

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (1999). Guidelines for the transportation of preschool-aged children. 

National Safety Council. (2020). Back to school safety checklist. National Safety Council Safety at Home.   

U.S. General Services Administration. (2003). The child care center design guide. GSA.