Car accidents are the leading cause of death in children under the age of 15 in the United States. According to SafeKids.org, “more than 2,600 children under the age of 13 are involved in a car crash daily. That’s one child every 33 seconds.”
Those numbers are terrifying. What’s worse is kids still ride in cars unrestrained and in car seats incorrectly installed. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states, “59% of car seats are misused.”
We all know securing our child’s car seat properly is imperative, but could we still unknowingly be using it ineffectually? If you put your child in a car seat while wearing their big winter coats or puffy snowsuits, then, yes, you misuse the car seat.
But if the outside temperature is -30° F shouldn’t your child be wearing their winter coat? The answer is also “Yes!” But don’t worry we have some solutions to help you keep your child both warm and safe.
Why are Winter Coats and Car Seats Not Always Compatible?
When we bundle up our kids and buckle them into the car seat, the car seat straps are too loose because of the coat. Now, we’re all thinking “No, I check the straps to make sure they’re tight, so they must be fine.” Unfortunately, the straps are often not tight enough, because the winter coat allows up to four inches of slack in the straps.
Still Skeptical? Try the test below.
How to Make Sure Your Child’s Winter Coat is Safe to Wear in the Car Seat?
- Put the winter coat or snowsuit on your child.
- Strap them into the car seat snugly.
- Without changing the length of the straps remove your child from the seat.
- Remove your child’s winter coat or snowsuit.
- Place your child back into the car seat and strap them in without adjusting the straps.
At this point you will notice one of two things:
- Your child fits snugly in the car seat, which means their winter gear is an excellent fit.
- You will notice a significant gap that shouldn’t exist, which means we need to find you a safer option.
During a car accident, the strength of the impact negates the space filled by the child’s jacket. The jacket will compress during impact which can result in a child’s injury or death.
If you are curious what this looks like, check this out:
Now that we’re aware of the dangers and consequences of children wearing winter coats in car seats, let’s discuss solutions.
Are You Using the Car Seat Correctly?
Even if you have winter coats compatible with your car seat, if you aren’t using the right car seat, it won’t matter. Check out the CDCs guide to make sure you are using the safest car seat/booster seat option.
How to Test If Your Child’s Car Seat Straps Fit Correctly:
First, we need to make sure we’re testing the car seat straps for a proper fit accurately.
After your child is snugly secured, pinch the harness at shoulder height. “If the harness is snug, your fingers will slide off the webbing. If the harness is loose, you will be able to pinch the webbing between your fingers.” (Safekids.org)
Winter gear tips when using a car seat:
Now that your child is safely secured in their car seat let’s look at winter gear options. The options are going to vary depending on the age or car seat stage your child is at.
Some good general ideas that can be used for kids of all ages:
- Dress your child in layers so you can easily add/remove layers when getting them in and out of the car seat:
- Start with tighter fitting clothes like long sleeve onesies, tights, or leggings.
- Next, dress them in a thermal or light sweater and jeans.
- Finally, add a lightweight fleece style jacket.
- Remember, you don’t want your child to overheat, so always take into account the temperature and distance you’re driving.
- Warm your car up before leaving.
- Store the car seat inside, if you have an infant car seat. The car seat will be warmer for it.
- Don’t forget the mittens, hats, and boots. These will all help keep your child warm.
- Lay a blanket over the child after they have been fully strapped in.
Tips to keep your child warm in the car seat:
The best way to keep your child warm in the car seat is by using something, like a blanket, to cover your child, after they’ve been strapped in. Keep the blanket inside your home and use it to keep your child warm from the house to the car. Then, once your child is strapped, place the blanket so it’s covering their entire body (except the face).
If you live in a really cold area, we suggest you turn on the car and heat 5-10 minutes before you take your child to the car. This way their car seat won’t feel as cold.
If you’re looking for other products that can keep them warm, here are some ideas:
- Cozy Cover: Much like the cocoon it is specially made for car seats. Its quilted exterior ensures your child stays warm and the zipper makes it effortless to access your child. An additional benefit is that it is machine washable making keeping it clean simple.
- Ponchos: Once your child has been secured into the car seat, the poncho is easy to slide over your child’s head. They’re warm and your toddler can freely move their arms around.
- One Kid Road Coat: Many mommies swear by these winter coats. This is one of the few winter coats that are safe for your child to wear while in the car seat. They are rated to -25° F, so perfect for freezing days. They have a unique split collar allowing the car seat strap to fit safely around your child.
- 7AM Enfant Easy Cover, Reversible and Wearable Blanket: This is another excellent choice. It’s made for little ones 3 years old to 6 years old. It’s a puffy blanket with arms, which allows your child to be warm and comfortable. It fits on the outside of the car seat avoiding interference with the car seat straps.
For Kids in Booster Seats:
An easy solution for children in booster seats is to put the coat on backward after your child has been strapped in. It’s both convenient and warm, plus has the added benefit of not needing extra winter gear.
Also, when kids get older, they’re more resistant to car seats and their accessories, making this method a great compromise.
Very Tempting to Skip This Step…
On those dreadfully cold mornings when you’re running late, it’s so tempting to cut corners. Maybe it’s just giving in and letting your child have the sugary cereal, or perhaps it’s putting your child into their car seat with their winter coat on. The first one isn’t so bad we all do give in from time to time, but the second one isn’t always so harmless.
Dr. Hoffman, a guest on the Today’s Show, reminds us, most accidents occur within 6 miles from our home and slower speeds of 30 mph can be fatal.
Winter driving can be treacherous, so knowing how to secure your child in their car seat correctly is of paramount importance. We know there are a lot of safety guidelines, but we hope these tips will help your child stay safe and warm this winter.
Hope you enjoyed reading this very important article that brings attention to parents everywhere about how dangerous it is to wear coats while being strapped in the car seat. As a mother of three small children, I made a passion of mine to share my knowledge of being a mom in general and more specifically being a Car Seat Mom.
Keren Simanova is a mommy by day and a passionate writer by night. She resides in New Jersey with her husband and three daughters.