As the temperatures remain well below freezing, parents are bundling their little ones up in warm coats and many layers. While this will protect them from the extreme cold, many do not know that bulky coats and car seats can be a lethal combination.
“The thick, bulky winter clothing [hazard] always comes up in the winter months, particularly right now with these record breaking temperatures,” said Montgomery County Car Seat Program Coordinator Emilie Crown. “You do not want anything fluffy between your child’s body and the harness straps of the car seat because then the harness will not hold your child tightly enough in the event of a crash. Items like snowsuits, buntings and bulky clothing prevent the harness straps of the car seat from being snug to the body of the child.”
Crown said that the same is also true of the sleeping bag-like accessories that many parents place inside their infant seats. These items, when placed under the child, add additional slack to the harness and could cause the child to come out of the seat in a crash.
“A good way to visualize how much added slack is used by these items is to place your child in the car seat using them and pulling the straps snug. Then unbuckle the child without changing the harness straps at all, remove the thick coat, bunting, etc. and place child in the car seat again and re-buckle,” explained Crown. “You will see how much looser the harness straps are.”
However, “parents do have options to keep their tots warm,” Crown said.
“For infants in the rear-facing only seats, the answer is easy. They should be placed in their seats inside where it is warm and the car seat is also warm. Dress them in their everyday clothes for indoors, or a couple of thin layers. Strap the baby in the car seat properly and then put blankets over and on the side of the baby to keep warm,” said Crown. “Make sure to place a hat on the baby’s head and keep any blankets away from the baby’s face.”
Crown added that for older children, parents can dress them in thin layers that fit snugly. They will get too warm if they are dressed in bulky clothes. A shirt and sweater work well. They should wear their coat out to the car, and then remove it once they are in the car to be buckled up. Crown also has a trick for parents.
“After they are harnessed in snugly, place the coat on backwards,” she said. “They will stay warm this way, and if they get too hot when the car heats up, it is simple to pull the coat off.”