How to combat car sickness

By Jess Shanahan | Guides

Jun 11

The lovely folk at Ford have been doing some research into car sickness in kids and adults to better establish what causes it and, importantly, how it can be prevented.

In new research carried out by Ford, with the help of motion sickness experts, passengers who stared at screens for the duration of a short journey fell ill after an average of just 10 minutes. And those were all grown-ups.

“Car sickness can turn an eagerly awaited family trip into a nightmare, with mum and dad nervously looking over their shoulders and fearing the worst” said Eike Schmidt, a research engineer at the Ford Research and Innovation Center, in Aachen, Germany. “Comfort is a huge focus for the way we design the cars of the future – and we want to do everything we can to reduce car sickness.” 

The warning signs of car sickness

According to Ford’s research, there are two obvious warning signs to car sickness: Yawing and perspiring.

If you are going on a road trip with kids, look out for car sickness symptoms before it’s too late!

Car sickness cures

“Car sickness is a complex problem. It is a natural reaction to an unnatural stimulus that cannot be cured as such. But we can look to alleviate the symptoms,” said Prof. Dr. Jelte Bos, of TNO, Perceptual and Cognitive Systems, Soesterberg, in the Netherlands.

In the initial testing it was found that when screens were mounted higher, and the road ahead could be seen on either side, volunteers were less likely to feel sick. Further experiments will explore alternative ways that journeys could be displayed in the cabin so that unseeing passengers can be warned of events such as twisty roads or hump backed bridges.

“For many drivers who think their child has a problem with car sickness it might simply be that their child has a problem with their driving,” added Prof. Bos, who also holds a chair in motion perception at Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, and has worked on a device that shows when behaviour behind the wheel could affect sickness-prone passengers. “Adopting a smoother driving style goes a long way towards reducing feelings of nausea – and it reduces fuel costs too.”

In short, there is no cure for car sickness but it can be alleviated with some simple tricks.

  • Move to the middle in the back seats, or preferably the front, to see the road ahead.
  • Drive smoothly and where possible avoid sudden braking, harsh acceleration, potholes.
  • Distract sufferers – even a family sing-along could help.
  • Drink cola and eat ginger biscuits but avoid coffee.
  • Use a pillow or head support to keep your head as still as possible.
  • Operate air-con to keep fresh air circulating.
  • If your passengers get car sick, stop them looking at screens during a long drive.
  • If you need to use screens, mount them as high as possible so your passengers can see the road on either side.

It’s also advisable to take regular breaks. Car sickness in kids is more prevalent but adults can get car sick too. 

If you’re struggling with car sick toddlers or children, remember, they will grow out of it. While some adults do get car sickness, it’s rarely as bad as in children. 

Don’t let car sickness ruin your enjoyment of a road trip. Following the advice above and also investing in things like car sickness bracelets and tablets, will ensure your road trip goes as smoothly as possible.


About the Author

Jess Shanahan is a road trip journalist and motorsport consultant who loves high heels, V8s and the open road. You can find her on Twitter @Jetlbomb.