Winter car seat safety

Maybe I’ve been living in the dark, but I learned something new today that I’ve never heard mention of before,  something that seems quite important to let others know about given how often it occurs. Having a kid wear a winter coat underneath the straps in their car seat is VERY unsafe, unsafe to the point that it could seriously injure or kill the child, even in a low speed crash.

We’re in the middle of a cold snap here that has us seeing temperatures around the zero mark. With the winter weather, I have been guilty of snapping our boy  in with his coat on, adjusting the straps if necessary to accommodate. Until today I had no idea this was such a risky move.

Why this is so dangerous is a matter of physics. The force exerted in a crash is great, especially with severe deceleration, and can be several hundred or thousands of pounds in most instances. For example, a 40 pound child in a 40 MPH crash exerts 1600 pounds of force! The coat will compress in a crash and leave the harness slack, allowing excessive movement of the child’s head or even ejection. The more slack there is, the greater the chance of serious head or neck injuries. Ejection from the seat is especially of concern with infants.

This blog has an example that shows the difference in slack between a child strapped in with their coat on and the same child without.  It may seem like you’ve tightened the straps properly even with the coat, but it’s not enough. There is no way you can exert the amount of force needed to counteract the effects of compression.

So what are some alternatives??

  • Have the child wear the coat backwards, putting their arms in after they’re buckled in.
  • Use a blanket tucked around the child.
  • Add a thin coat or shirt underneath, like a fleece.
  • Use special products, made just for use in car seats. Make sure they do not come between your child and the straps.
  • If you are unwilling to leave the child sans-coat, try this trick of fastening the front of the coat OVER the straps. This leaves a little bulk for compression in the back but is much safer than leaving the coat on as-is.

The rule of thumb (even for non-winter car seat use) is that you should not be able to get more than one finger width between the strap and the child.

Car crashes are the number one killer of US children ages 1-14. Many of the children killed were in child seats, just not restrained correctly.  I plan to work harder to make sure that my son is restrained properly. The inconvenience of removing his coat in no way compares to the increased risk of leaving it on.

Additional info:
Directions to check your coat for car seat safety, and other tips to keep your child warm and safe

Winter Car Seat Safety

Car Seat Basics