With winter in full swing, it's important to re-evaluate your child's car seat safety. As we all know, it is imperative that car seat/booster seat straps fit snugly against your child's chest. Travelin' Dad and I were driving TJ to a park the other day to play in the snow, and TJ was dressed in his puffiest winter coat (the one in which he looks like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man), and although we were just going around the corner, I had a gnawing feeling that it wasn't safe (as I had to extend the straps quite a bit to fit around the monstrous coat). After a little research, I realized just how unsafe that trip was.
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety , in a collision, the extra fabric and padding in a winter coat will compress and cause slack in the harness system, which allows the child to move forward during a crash, increasing possible injuries. The Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority (REMSA) also warns that a winter coat or snow suit changes the way the child fits into the car seat, and there is a chance the child may be ejected from the car seat or that there is just enough space between the child and the straps to cause serious injuries.
So, I get it. No heavy winter coats while strapped in the car seat, whether on a long road trip or just going around the block. Some potential solutions are:
- Put TJ in regular clothes (jeans, a onesie, and a sweater), warm up the car in advance, and throw the winter coat in the trunk to be used after we reach our destination. Although Al Gore may slug you with his Nobel Prize if he witnessed this un-green solution.
- Buckle TJ in regular clothes, and then put a blanket over him (making sure it sits on top of the harness system and isn't wrapped around his back). Watch TJ kick the blanket off 30 seconds later.
- On warmer winter days, dress TJ in his thinner corduroy jacket - the harness straps still fit snugly against his body. (Next time if he is in the car without any jacket, make sure to again tighten the straps.)
- Buckle TJ in regular clothes, and once the harness is secure, put his coat on backwards, pulling his arms through the sleeves. Watch TJ get mad because the coat hampers him from easily digging into his snack trap.
If you want to determine if your winter coat is too big to be safe (like the Stay Puft Marshmallow coat), or acceptable (like the corduroy coat), REMSA recommends the following test:
- Take the car seat into your house.
- Put the winter coat or snowsuit on your child.
- Put your child in the car seat and buckle the harness as you normally would before car travel. Adjust the straps to the appropriate fit for your child.
- Take your child out of the car seat without loosening the straps.
- Take the coat off your child.
- Put your child back in the car seat again, and buckle the straps without tightening them.
- If you can fit more than one finger under the harness at the child's shoulder bone, the coat is too thick and is not safe for use with the car seat.
By following these few precautions, you can make sure that your child stays both warm and safe this winter while riding in the car.