Winter is right around the corner or maybe it has already hit your neck of the woods. Like all good parents you want to be sure your child stays warm because you probably grew up with your grandparents and parents screaming “You’ll catch a cold if you don’t bundle up!” 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 or a baby in a bunting suit is placed in their car seat with a 5-point harness? We don’t really know! This alone is a good enough reason not to transport your child this way. Car seat manufacturers use an instrumented test dummy to test their car seats. The dummy has to be dressed in one layer like a thin t-shirt and pants. Yes, the exact type of clothing is regulated by law.
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 forefingers and thumb when checking at your child’s collarbone.
When a child is strapped into a car seat wearing a thick, padded winter coat, the harness cannot get snug up against the child’s body. Essentially the harness is loose. 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 distance it takes to get to the harness (stopping point), the more energy is generated. The more energy, the more chance of injury. It’s simple physics.
There are a few options for you to keep your kiddos warm while keeping them safe in their car seat. For babies, many infant carriers come with a cover which zips up over the entire car seat to help keep them warm when it’s cold out. You can also wrap up your child in a blanket while carrying them to the car, remove the blanket and strap them in their harness, then place the blanket over them. For older children, take off their jacket and strap them in their harness, then put their jacket on backwards.
Keeping a toddler happy in the car makes for a safer, quieter and less stressful ride. Riding stress free enables you to keep your eye and mind on the road, which keeps everyone safer. Here is a reminder from George that fluffy puffy coats are not always ideal.