As a parent, you know that the safest thing you can do for your child in the car is to put them in an age-appropriate, properly installed car seat. And as the temperature begins to drop and the winter months roll in, you also know that you need to take steps to keep your child warm while in the car.
But did you know that combining these two necessities—coats and car seats—can actually be extremely dangerous for your child’s safety?
Winter Coats & Car Seats: A Dangerous Combination
The proper way to fit your child in their car seat is with the straps pulled snugly against them. If the addition of multiple outer layers, such as sweaters, scarves, and coats, requires the straps to be loosened for the child to be comfortable, this negatively impacts the strap’s effectiveness.
While it may appear that your child’s car seat straps are fitting properly, even with their winter coat on, don’t be deceived. In the event of an accident, extra layers added by a winter wardrobe can compress, allowing the child’s body to move much more freely and violently under the straps. This can lead to severe injuries to the child’s skull, spine, neck, and more.
How to Practice Winter Car Seat Safety
So how can you keep your child safe and warm this winter?
- For car rides, dress your child in thin, close-fitting layers. Do not outfit them in heavy winter layers before putting them into a car seat. Any extra padding and fluffy layers should not be worn or placed around the child’s body before the straps are secured.
- For infants and younger children, secure the child first in the car seat wearing only form-fitting, light layers. Then swaddle the infant in layers of blankets over the straps.
- For older children, after securing your child in the car seat, help them to put on their coat backwards, so that they can still use the arm holes, but the back of the jacket is against their chest. This way, there is no extra bulk under the straps; plus, if you child becomes too warm during the ride, they can easily remove a layer to cool off. Offering your child a blanket to drape over themselves after the straps are secure is another option.
- Many third-party companies (those not directly associated with car seat manufacturers) sell car seat accessories and attachments designed to keep your child warm in their car seat during the chilly winter months. If you decide to invest in one of these, make sure that the piece has a cut out frame, so that the attachment can be added over the buckled child. Any accessories with layers that are designed to fit underneath the child in the seat present the same issue as a winter coat or jacket.
Ultimately, the best way to determine if winter clothing is affecting a car seat’s ability to properly protect your child is to make sure the belts fit snugly against your child’s body. To test that the straps are properly tightened, pinch the harness section of the car seat near your child’s collarbone. If there is any slack, the straps should be tightened further.
As you can see, by taking a little extra time to test your child’s car seat straps and come up with creative ways to layer over a secured harness, you can easily practice car seat safety and make sure that your child is kept both safe and warm anytime you are on the road during the cold winter weather. Make sure your consumer roadside assistance coverage is up to date.