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The Dangers of Coats + Car Seats

It’s common parenting knowledge that a car seat is an absolute necessity for safely transporting an infant or young child in a moving vehicle, but parents and other caregivers need to be aware that coats and car seats can be unsafe together. The bulk of a coat or other heavy clothing can keep a harness from restraining a child properly because the fabric can compress in an accident, leaving enough space between the child’s body and the harness for injury or even ejection to occur.

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises, “It’s OK to adjust the straps to allow for thicker clothes, but make sure the harness still holds the child snugly. Also, remember to tighten the straps again after the thicker clothes are no longer needed.”

Try this test before hitting the road during the cold weather:

1. Place your child in the car seat with winter outerwear on.

2. Tighten the harness until it passes the pinch test (i.e., you should be unable to pinch the webbing together at the child’s shoulder).  

3. Remove the child from the seat without letting out the straps.

4. Remove the child’s outerwear and buckle him back into the seat.

5. Do the pinch test again.    

If the straps don’t pass the pinch test the second time, the winter gear your child had on is too bulky to wear safely while riding in the car seat.

Safe ways to stay warm in the car

Warm up the car before taking your child from the house to the vehicle. Have her wear her coat to the car, but when she gets in, remove her coat and any other bulky clothing that doesn’t pass the test above.

After you buckle your child into the car seat, lay her coat or a blanket over the harness to keep her warm during the ride. Toddlers and older children can wear their coats backwards by putting their arms into the sleeves with the zipper facing behind them.

Although there are products to line car seats to keep infants warm, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration warns, “Never put thick padding under or behind the baby unless it’s recommended for use by the car seat manufacturer.”

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