In the middle of winter with cold temperatures and blustery winds, it’s important to keep your little ones all bundled up. But that warm coat can get in the way of protecting your children in a car crash. While it may seem like they are strapped snugly into a car seat, the coat can make the harness straps dangerously loose.
Getting buckled in
Your children should not wear bulky winter coats underneath their car seat harness. The bulky coats we wear in winter — especially the down-filled puffy coats — can make the child car seat’s safety harness ineffective in a crash.
The aspect of the puffy coats that make them warm — that they trap air because of the loose feathers and down — is the same characteristic that makes them dangerous in the child seat.
When a vehicle accident is extreme, the violent force created in the impact compresses the bulky coat layers, and throws the child forward against the straps. Even if the child remains in the seat, they risk injury to the chest, head and neck, says pediatrician Kimberly Giuliano, MD.
“Those big bulky coats really do cause too much separation between the belt and the child,” Dr. Giuliano says. “In a significant vehicle crash, the child is at risk for slipping out from under the straps.”
Even if that doesn’t happen, a bulky winter coat allows a lot of movement in that space within the car, which, unfortunately, can result in head and chest injuries, Dr. Giuliano says.
Tips for a proper fit
Dr. Giuliano recommends you remove your child’s winter coat once you’re inside the car. After you strap them in snugly, cover smaller children with a blanket or put the coat on them backwards, with their arms through the armholes.
“The child may fit in the car seat with their coat on and the buckle closed, but it doesn’t mean that the buckle is holding them tightly into the seat,” Dr. Giuliano says.
“The key is that the seatbelt needs to be tight against the baby and not be separated from the baby by layers of cloth or down,” she says.
To test if a coat is too thick for a car seat, try these steps:
- Strap your child into the seat with their coat on.
- Undo the straps without loosening them and remove the coat.
- Re-fasten the straps and see if there is enough room to fit your hand in between the straps and the child.
- If there is room for your hand, then the coat is too thick to wear in the car seat.
It is very important that the harness is tight enough so that you can’t pinch the webbing between your thumb and forefinger. Extra slack in the harness can be dangerous.
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