Car Seats And Coats: What Safe Adults Need To Know This Winter

During the winter months, a parent or caregiver's instinct is to bundle up a child to put the child in the car. However, putting a child wearing a bulky winter coat into a car seat can be dangerous.

Most car seats will not work properly if the child is wearing anything thicker than a sweatshirt. If you have a car crash, bulky coats, or other sleeping bag-like materials, will compress. As a result, the harness straps will become too loose to hold the child in tightly and help the child come to a gentle stop. The child could even slip out of the restraint.

Another reason you should remove the child's coat before putting him or her in a car seat is because, as the heater warms the car up, the child, unable to remove the coat, could overheat. Amie Durocher "Winter Coats and Car Seats" (Dec. 20, 2018).

Commentary and Checklist

According to the source material, most car seats cannot protect a child in a crash if the child is wearing a thick winter coat.

To check if the child’s coat is too thick for your car seat, fasten the child into the car seat wearing the coat. Tighten the harness until you cannot pinch any of the harness webbing between your thumb and forefinger. Take the child out of the car seat without loosening the harness. Then, buckle the child back in without his or her coat on. Try to pinch the harness webbing between your thumb and finger again. If you can, the coat is too thick to wear in the car seat.

When taking toddlers or preschoolers on excursions during winter, go ahead and bundle them up in their coats if your car is parked outside. Then, help them take off their coats before buckling them into their car seat and securing the harness tightly. Either drape the coat back over the child—the child can put his or her arms through the sleeves backwards—or you can put blankets over the child. That way, the child will be warm while the car is still warming up, but can remove the coat or blankets once the heater is going.  

What about safety for infants in infant carriers? Here are some tips for parents and caregivers pertaining to the youngest of children:

  • Dress your infant for the temperature inside, not outside.
  • Put the infant in the carrier wearing his or her indoor clothes, without a coat on, and secure the straps so that they are snug.
  • Make sure that you cannot pinch the material of the harness between your thumb and forefinger. If you can, the harness straps are too loose and need to be tightened.
  • Put a hat on your infant and cover him or her with more than one blanket before carrying your infant to the car in cold weather.
  • As the car warms up, remove the blankets one at a time, so that your baby does not overheat while riding in the car.
  • Before carrying your infant from the car to your destination, put the blankets back on.
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