Take off winter jackets in car seats

Today I'm bringing you a safety bulletin for winter car safety when you're driving with little ones.

Heavy winter coats don't belong on kids in carseats.

 

Oh, I know, I'm sitting here in my ivory tower, aka 40-something-degree weather, telling you you have to disrobe your babies before placing them in your freezing car. But, the thing is, you cannot always get a car seat's straps tight enough to be safe over a bulky winter jacket or snowsuit, or even a heavy sweater. In a collision, the jacket's padding will compress under the high forces presented and your precious cargo will be subject to being flung around instead of safely contained. For a child in a booster seat, this could even mean coming out of the seatbelt entirely.

So what can you do to keep your tots toasty and safe?

Here's a trick I learned on my own but now see endorsed by car safety technician Jen from Car-Seat.org, so I feel better passing it along to you.

  • Put your child into the seat without the jacket. Tighten the harness so that it's safely snug.
  • Now leave it at that tightness for when you put your child in with a jacket on.
  • Pull the jacket off the child's shoulders a little and unzip it down the front; then push the harness to the inside of the jacket so that most or all of the straps contact with the child's regular shirt instead of the jacket. (See my son reluctantly modeling in the picture.)
  • Does the harness still buckle at the same tightness of the child with just a shirt? Then it's tight enough even with your child's jacket on.
  • To keep your child warm, you can now zip or otherwise fasten (Velcro, snap) the front closed over the harness and straps.

If your child's jacket failed the fit test or you were unable to push it out of the way of the straps, take it off entirely and use a different method of keeping your child warm:

  • Put the jacket on backwards after fastening the harness, or just lay it over your child's lap and tuck it in on the sides to stay put.
  • Keep a warm blanket in the back seat to lay over your little one. If the blanket would be too cold after having been in the car, carry it in your diaper bag instead. For young babies, make sure you tuck the blanket in well at waist level so it can't ride up and be a suffocation hazard.
  • For infant car seats, there are specialty covers you can buy or sew to keep out the drafts.
  • Start the car before putting your baby in to get the heat going (only if this is safe in your neighborhood or you have a remote starter!).
  • Take the bus!

I use this trick on myself, too! If I don't want to take off my coat entirely, I make sure to slip my seatbelt underneath it so it's holding me and not my jacket.

I couldn't find any specific studies to prove that winter jacket use in car seats is unsafe, but there is plenty of evidence that loose harnesses, the danger behind bulky winter jackets, lead to injury risk. For instance, here's a PDF of several motor vehicle accidents involving children that lists the causes for the injuries and fatalities, and the causes include mentions of loose harnesses contributing to injuries, particularly neck and head injuries. Despite the dry tone of this report, I will warn you in advance that it is heartbreaking to read. Here's another report stating that a significant cause of car seat misuse is loose harnesses.

Know how to keep your kids extra safe?

I can't resist, in any car-seat safety article, not putting in a bonus plug for extended rear-facing. The current recommendations from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the U.S. are at least a year and twenty pounds, but going longer than both is best for your baby's spine, as the American Academy of Pediatrics and car safety advocates already recommend. The pressures on forward-facing children are much more dangerous toward their immature spines. It's best to leave your toddler rear facing for as long as your car seat's weight and height limits will allow. Some of the newer models go up to 40 pounds or more, which is excellent and should serve you for at least a few years of safe rear facing.

Just keep the jacket out of the way!


A version of this post appeared on Hobo Mama.

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