Screech! Hold the phones! What do you mean car seats and jackets don’t work well together? I want my child to be both warm and safe!!! You’re telling me I can’t do that??? This is Vermont! It’s COLD here!
There are some good ways to keep your child both warm and safe in the car. We’re going to talk about the problems with winter gear and car seats and go over some good solutions. The problem: Car seats are not designed to be used with thick clothing in the harness. The harness is designed to be close to the child’s body and snug. When a coat or bunting is introduced into the equation, excess slack to make up for the bulk in the fabric, is given to the harness. This thick clothing, in a crash, can compress and cause the child to be ejected. Go here and here for two different visual examples of this problem.
To re-state, anything that comes between the child and the harness of the car seat
Now, you’re saying to yourself, “well then, aren’t clothes a problem?” The answer is no. Car seats are tested with crash test dummies in clothing. It’s part of the testing procedure. The seat must pass testing with a certain amount of clothing. That clothing, though, is thin.
Given that, what’s a caring, concerned parent to do?
We recommend that you dress your child as if it were 40-50 degrees out. Normal clothing plus a thin outer layer – sweater, sweatshirt, fleece, etc. They can then put a jacket on over the warm clothing, go out to the car and remove the jacket. The child buckles up in their seat with the thin outer layer on. They then put the jacket on backwards, after completing the buckling process.
Alternatively, you can do the jacket pull-thru – Go here for a link to our brochure detailing this method.
For those parents with infant car seats, the use of buntings is very popular, but those products have the same problem. We cannot recommend their use. Along with the compression issue, the buntings typically change the harness routing on the car seat.
A solution for the infant car seat dilemma is a shower cap or boat cover-style car seat cover. These are elasticized around the edge and do not interfere with the harness. Blankets are also acceptable, so long as they are not between the baby and the harness.
Tips for Staying Safe – and Warm!
- Use bulky clothes and blankets over the harness, never under.
- Babies in rear-facing infant car seats can use blankets and/or an elasticized car seat cover after being buckled into their seat.
- Blankets cannot be tucked under the harness or behind the baby’s back.
- Toddlers in rear or forward facing seats have two options:
- Remove coat before buckling. After the harness has been secured, put on backward with the child’s arms through the sleeves.
- The jacket-pull-thru method can be used to secure the harness to the child’s body.
Ann Weinstein is a Child Passenger Safety Specialist at the Office of Community Health Improvement at the UVM Medical Center.