The cold weather is creeping up – in some more northern places, it has already arrived. It’s natural that we want to bundle up before going anywhere, especially our children. Unfortunately, what we put on our kids to keep them warm could be putting them in pretty serious danger. Wearing a winter coat in a car seat could effectively render that car seat useless in terms of protecting your child. This is what parents and car seat manufacturers want you to know.
Wearing A Winter Coat In A Car Seat Puts Your Child At Risk
For those of us who have lived in cold climates, we know too well the feeling when you first dash from your front door into your car. It’s cold. You start the engine and turn on the heaters full-blast, but still, it takes quite a while for the car to warm up. You sit there, huddled in your winter coat, silently (or out loud) cursing at the frigid temperatures.
When we have children, we don’t want them to be cold. So we bundle them up in layers of sweaters, socks, snow pants, hats, scarves, and of course, a heavy winter coat so that their small bodies stay warm. While this is a good thing, it is a huge detriment to car safety. This is especially so if your child is still using a car seat. Parents and auto manufacturers are now warning other child caregivers about the dangers of wearing a winter coat in a child car seat. (1)
A Winter Coat Can Render A Car Seat Almost Completely Useless
One of the most important factors when strapping your child into a car seat is that the seat fits properly. It needs to be snug to their body so that if you crash, they will be tethered safely to the seat. Any amount of space can make them liable to injury or even complete ejection from the car.
A video from Good Egg Car Company shows the number of inches left between the car seat safety belt and the child’s body when wearing a winter coat. Those few inches, in a crash, could be the difference between injured and fine, or even life and death. Every inch that a car seat is too loose on a child’s body decreases the effectiveness of that car seat significantly. Crash test dummy videos show just how dangerous those few inches of space can be.
How To Keep Your Child Safe And Warm This Winter
Naturally, you don’t want to leave your child “out in the cold”, so to speak. At the same time, especially considering how dangerous winter driving conditions can be, you don’t want to leave them vulnerable in a crash. So what do you do?
Test The Safety Of The Winter Coat
Whenever your child has a jacket or coat on, it is a good idea to first check the safety of that coat for a car seat. In some cases, some lighter jackets may actually be fine. The bigger, puffier ones, however, likely not. To check your child’s jacket’s car seat safety, follow these steps (2):
- Put your child, coat on, in the car seat and fasten the straps.Tighten the harness until you can no longer pinch any of the webbing between your finger and thumb.
- Without loosening the harness, unclip it and remove your child’s coat. Then, put your child back in the car seat and buckle it up. Don’t adjust it any differently than when the coat was on. Do the pinch test again. If you can pinch the webbing at all, the coat is too big to be worn in a car seat.
Tips For Winter Car Seat Safety and Warmth
Bulky clothing, winter coats, and snowsuits have no place in a car seat. Keeping your child safe and warm will take a little bit of extra planning and effort, but it’s a small price to pay for their safety. Here are some tips for winter car seat protocol (3):
- Keep the carrier portion of the car seat inside the house during the winter. This will keep the seat warmer and prevent body heat loss in the child.
- Give yourself extra time when going places with your child. You will need extra time to get them ready, prepare the seat, not to mention slippery/snowy driving conditions.
- Dress them in thin layers. In really cold weather, make the bottom layers thermal. Use well-fitting fleece layers for the top.
- Use hats, mittens, socks, and boots. Avoid scarves as these can be choking hazards.
- Remove the child’s coat and use it as a blanket to keep them warm instead. After you’ve secured them in the seat, put their coat on backwards so that their arms are still in the sleeves. The rest of the coat will lie over them like a blanket. Be sure that the coat is over top of and not underneath the harness.
- Alternatively, you can use a blanket or a car seat cover to keep them warm (again, overtop of the straps.
- Have an emergency bag in the car with blankets, extra layers, hats, gloves, and non-perishable snacks in case of roadside problems or your child gets wet playing in the snow.
Finally, always remember that if it doesn’t come with the car seat, it means that it hasn’t been crash-tested with it and could therefore pose a risk. Always secure your child in a car seat according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Never put anything bulky or extra between your child and their car seat straps. This tip could save your or someone else’s child’s life.
Keep Reading: Fire Safety Tips for Preventing House Fires, from the Laundry Room to the Kitchen
- “Shocking footage shows why you should never make your child wear a winter coat in car.” Mirror. Lisa Hodge, Ryan Fahey. November 24, 2021.
- “The Dangers of Winter Coats and Car Seats.” Consumer Reports. Emily A. Thomas, Ph.D. Decmber 7, 2020.
- “Winter Car Seat Safety Tips from the AAP.” Healthy Children