Traveling during the holidays is stressful enough without adding kids to the mix, and a new survey suggests that when children are involved, the trips can pose serious safety risks for little ones.
That's because parents sometimes skip things like car seats and keeping medications or weapons out of reach, according to a new report from the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll.
"They may be less fastidious while on vacation, leaving medications in open suitcases or on hotel tables or not childproofing a relative's house," said poll co-director Sarah Clark.
Each year, millions of families with toddlers travel during the holiday season, leaving behind daily routines and a childproofed home environment. The nationally representative poll asked parents with at least one child aged 2 to 5 about recent travel habits.
Overall, 15 percent of parents surveyed said they did not put their toddler in a car seat for every car ride on a recent trip, with the majority of cases involving taxi or shared ride services such as Uber or Lyft.
"Most parents recognize the fact that car seats improve safety for their children," said David Schwebel, director of the Youth Safety Lab at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
"When they weigh pros and cons while traveling, however, I suspect the hassles of lugging car seats and then installing them in taxis or ride-share vehicles is the most likely explanation for parents failing to secure their children in the safest possible manner while traveling by car," Schwebel, who wasn't involved in the poll, added by email.
About one quarter of parents didn't remember to safely store medications when traveling with their toddler, the poll also found.
Roughly one-third said they didn't check to make sure cleaning supplies, guns and other weapons were out of their child's reach on their most recent trip.
One-third of parents also said they failed to check the hot water temperature before bathing their child, risking potential burns.
Approximately 40 percent of parents paid attention to medications, cleaning supplies, weapons and water temperature during their most recent vacation, while 3 percent reported doing none of these things.
To prevent injuries during family vacations, parents should either bring a car seat or rent one at their destination, Clark advised. Many airlines allow parents to check a car seat for free, and some ride share and car service companies can offer reservations with car seats.
When the trip is to visit friends or relatives, it can help to ask hosts to put medications, cleaners or other potentially dangerous items out of reach before toddlers arrive in the house, Clark added.
Bringing extra safety devices like cabinet latches and baby gates can also help keep curious kids from getting into places where they might be hurt or injured. A common cause of poisoning is household cleaners, which are often stored in cabinets low to the ground right at toddler level.
Parents also shouldn't be shy about asking if there are guns or weapons in a home they visit, and asking that these items be locked and stored where kids can't get them.
"Parents commonly find it difficult to imagine that something bad could happen to their child," said Dr. Gary Smith, president of the Child Injury Prevention Alliance in Columbus, Ohio. "They perceive the risk as small and do not take simple steps to prevent injury."
In reality, changes in routine, lapses in adult supervision and hidden dangers during vacations can all contribute to injuries, Smith, who wasn't involved in the poll, said by email.
Sometimes, parents may struggle to create a safe environment for their kids because they're visiting friends or relatives who don't think precautions like car seats or cabinet locks are always needed, Clark said.
This is a good time to play the blame game and say the kid is too curious or the pediatrician is worried about the child getting poisoned or injured.
"You might have to accept a little pushback or light teasing, but that's a small price for keeping your child safe." Clark said.