Bundling up and buckling up are two of the most important things you can do to protect your child, but the two don’t mix when it comes to making sure your child is protected in the event of a motor vehicle crash.
That puffy coat or snowsuit can protect against the elements, but it might be keeping your child’s car seat, booster seat, or seat belt from doing its job. Seat belts and car seat straps work best when they lay flat, with no twists, and are snug and close to the child’s body. If you buckle in or strap in a child in bulky outerwear, there’s dangerous wiggle room that could allow for neck, head, or spinal injuries in a crash.
If the straps are too loose, the coat can compress, opening up a gap where a child could slip through the straps and be ejected from the seat and the vehicle. An adult should not be able to pinch any extra webbing from the seat straps with the thumb and forefinger. If the strap pinches, it’s too loose.
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children up to the age of thirteen. According to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, there were 5,337 crashes involving children under the age of eight between 2016 and 2019. Forty-six children died from their injuries.
Strapping a child in heavy outerwear into a child safety seat can also create other problems in the car. Too many layers can cause a child to become overheated and start crying, potentially causing a distraction for the driver. Looking away from the road for just two seconds doubles a driver’s risk of being in a crash. Children don’t usually need heavy outerwear, gloves, or a hat in a properly warmed car. Even the smallest babies need only one more layer of clothing than their caregivers to remain comfortable in a vehicle.
Follow these six tips for securing children and keeping them warm in the car during the cold months:
1. Warm up the car before your trip. Little passengers won’t feel the cold as much if the car is heated. This will allow infants, toddlers, and young children to be in a car seat or wear seat belts comfortably without heavy outerwear.
2. Strap them and cap them. Use the shower cap-style cover placed over the rear-facing infant carrier. This type of cover doesn’t interfere with the harness at all and is easily opened or removed if the child starts to get too warm.
3. Bring on the blankie. After securing your child’s seat belt, tuck a blanket around him or her.Never fit a seat belt over the blanket.
4. Lose the bulk. Opt for thin and warm layers. Fleece outerwear is recommend because it is thin enough to work well under seat belts, yet warm enough to keep your child comfortable.
5. Try the backwards coat.Secure a young child in a car seat without a coat on and once the child is snugly strapped into the car seat, put the coat on backwards. This method keeps the harness snug to the child and allows the child freedom to remove the coat if he gets too warm.
6. Open the coat. Some coats and most fleece jackets are thin enough for children to wear safely in a car seat or booster, however, an alternative is to leave the coat unzipped. Load the child into the car seat or booster and secure the safety belt or straps, making sure a snug fit has been achieved.
Do you have questions about your child’s car seat or need help making sure it’s installed correctly? The Virginia Department of Health has certified child passenger safety technicians across the area who can help. You can learn more about car seat safety at vdh.virginia.gov.