With Old Man Winter right around the corner it’s a good time to talk about bulky winter jackets and how they can affect proper harness fit in your child’s car seat. Frigid temperatures can cause your child’s body temperature to get too low and wearing a thick coat, along with gloves and a hat, is necessary to protect them from the cold.
So what happens when a child wearing a thick winter coat is placed in their car seat with a 5-point harness and a crash happens? Unfortunately we don’t really know because car seat manufacturers don’t crash test this way! This alone is a good enough reason not to transport your child this way. The manufacturers use an instrumented test dummy to test their car seats. You might be surprised to learn that even the clothing worn by the dummy is regulated by law and it must be dressed in one layer like a thin t-shirt and pants.
Car seat manufacturers do test for misuse like a loose harness. When the harness is too loose, more energy is transferred to the test dummy’s body. The more energy, the more chance of injury. With a really loose harness, the test dummy’s injury numbers will fail the crash test, indicating the likelihood of serious injury to a real child. This is why every car seat manufacturer’s manual instructs you to snug up the harness so the webbing lays flat up against the child’s body. A proper fit means you cannot pinch the webbing between your finger and thumb when checking at your child’s collarbone.
When a child is strapped into a car seat wearing a bulky winter jacket, the harness cannot get snug up against the child’s body. This leaves the harness loose even though it looks properly tightened. In a crash the padding in the coat will compress while the child’s body is traveling towards the harness which is supposed to help them “ride down” the crash. The longer the distance it takes to get to the harness (stopping point), the more energy is generated. The more energy, the greater the risk of injury. It’s simple physics. Here are some tips to make sure your kids stay safe AND warm this winter.
DON’T place additional clothing or blankets between your child and their car seat.DO wrap them in a blanket and carry them to the car. Then you can unwrap them from the blanket, place them in their car seat, tighten the harness and place the blanket around them.
DON’T dress your child in their bulky winter clothing and then harness them in their car seat.DO take their jacket off once you’re in the car. You can then put them in their harness and put their winter jacket on them backwards.
For infant car seats, DO check with the manufacturer to see if they make a winter cover that can be placed over the carrier once your baby is harnessed.
If there are no safety issues, DO warm up the car before you leave.
Here’s a handy infographic to help you remember:
Keeping a child warm and happy in the car makes for a safe, quiet and stress-free journey. A stress-free ride means you’ll be able to keep your eyes and mind on the road which keeps everyone safer.