Winter Coats And Car Seat Safety

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As the weather turns colder, bundling up to go outside is a wise idea. Children, especially, tend to feel the winter chill. So dressing them in layer upon layer of clothing is part of the drill.

But it turns out that protecting kids from the cold could put them at risk when they're traveling by car. "Any bulky clothing, including winter coats, snowsuits, vests and car seat covers inserted under a child, will interfere with the protection a car seat provides in a crash," says Ashley Falco, M.D., a pediatrician at Henry Ford Health System.

Staying Safe — And Warm — In A Car Seat

Puffy winter apparel interferes with the effectiveness of car seats. "In a crash any padding between a child and their harness immediately flattens out from force, leaving space under the harness," Dr. Falco says. "Certain types of jackets and snowsuits, especially 'puffer coats' can be significantly compressed and leave large amounts of room between a child and their harness. A child can then slip through the straps and be thrown from the seat."

A few tips to ensure your child is both safe and warm when traveling by car:

  1. Follow the rules: All children from infants through school age should be in an age-appropriate car seat when they're traveling by car.
  2. Steer clear of inserts: Any item that did not come with the car seat and has not been crash tested is not safe for use. This includes infant inserts that are not manufactured specifically for your child's car seat.
  3. Keep it tight: Make sure your child's safety harness is tight and that it is appropriately placed — even when a winter jacket is on.
  4. Choose appropriate apparel: To keep your child safe and warm, choose non-compressible jackets and multiple thin layers. Add hats, mittens and warm socks or booties to keep their extremities warm. "Start with tights or leggings, long-sleeved body suits or long underwear followed by a pair of pants and thermal shirt or sweater with fleece or thin coat on top," suggests Dr. Falco.
  5. Cover up: Use a coat or blanket over the top of the car seat straps or turn their winter coat backwards and place it over the buckled straps. "There are also car seat-specific coats, which provide a thin layer under the harness and a warm padded layer over," Dr. Falco says. "Just keep in mind that any bundling product that goes underneath or between a baby and the harness is not safe."
  6. Plan ahead: If you have an infant, bring the carrier portion of the car seat inside your home, so your child will be tucked in safe and warm prior to traveling. For older children who have permanently installed car seats, turn on your car 5 to 10 minutes before putting your child in the car. "Pack an emergency bag in your car with extra blankets, dry clothes, hats, gloves and even a snack in case of an on-road emergency," Dr. Falco says.

Keep Your Child's Car Seat Safe

Wearing winter coats underneath a car seat safety harness is dangerous. But not all winter apparel is cause for concern. To determine whether your child's jacket is too puffy, follow these steps:

  • Put your coat-clad child in his car seat and secure the harness.
  • Pull the harness tight until you can no longer pinch the webbing between your thumb and forefinger beneath the straps.
  • Without loosening the straps, unfasten the harness and remove your child from the car seat.
  • Take the coat off your child, put her back in the car seat and buckle the harness straps (they should be set for the same tightness as they were with the coat on). If you can pinch the webbing between your thumb and forefinger beneath the harness, then the coat is too bulky to wear while traveling.

Your best bet to keep your child safe in their car seat: Pay attention to the harness. It should be tight enough that you can't pinch the webbing between your thumb and forefinger beneath the straps. If there's extra slack, your child could wriggle out of the straps and may even be thrown out of the car during a crash.


Still concerned about car seat safety? Talk to your pediatrician for specific guidelines. To find a pediatrician at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

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Dr. Ashley Falco is a board-certified pediatrician seeing patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Pierson in Grosse Pointe Farms.

Categories: ParentWell