The 411 on car seat safety in the winter

You’ve installed the car seat according to manufacturer’s instructions and know how to perfectly latch your little one in the seat. But did you know you could be making your child less safe by doing one common thing?

Winter can be tricky for children in car seats. When it’s cold outside, you naturally want to bundle up your little ones when they head outdoors. But before harnessing and latching your child into their car seat take the coat off.

Why is that?

Bulky clothing like a winter coat or snowsuit can cause the car seat’s harness to fit improperly. If a crash occurs, fluffy padding would immediately flatten out due to force from the crash, leaving extra space between your child and the harness.

That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends removing the coat before fastening your child into the car seat. A few easy steps can help you keep your little one warm in the car without the coat on:

  • Store the carrier portion of an infant seat inside so that it can be warm when you place it back in the vehicle.
  • Dress your child in thin layers. Put thin layers like leggings and long-sleeved bodysuits close to the body. Then add other slightly thicker layers on top, like a sweater or thin jacket. If it’s really cold outside, long underwear under clothing is a warm and safe option.
  • Don’t forget to cover the basics — the head, ears, hands, and feet. Hats, gloves/mittens, and socks will all keep your child warm without interfering with car seat safety.
  • Do the Pinch Test. Layers can make it difficult to tell if the harness is tight enough. Make sure the harness is snug enough by pinching the harness at the shoulder. If you can pinch the straps of the car seat harness, then it needs to be tightened to fit snugly.
  • Once you’ve tightened the harness, put your child’s coat or blanket over the car seat straps. Keep in mind the top layer used to cover your child should be removable so your child does not get overheated after the car warms up. Be sure to leave your child’s face uncovered. Make sure you don’t place any items under your child. Doing so can interfere with car seat safety and make your child less secure.
  • Remember, if the item didn’t come with the car seat, it has not been crash-tested and may interfere with the safety of the car seat.

Lindsay Bass, BSN, RN, is the Pediatric Trauma Injury Prevention & Outreach Coordinator at Children’s Hospital at Erlanger. She is a Child Passenger Safety Technician and leads the Southeast Coalition for Safe Kids and Children’s Hospital at Erlanger Safe & Sound program.

Following these few safety tips will make your child ride safer this winter. If you’re looking for more guidance about car seat safety and other kids’ health issues? Talk with your pediatrician. Safe and Sound at Children’s Hospital at Erlanger offers free car seat checks by appointment only at this time. You can call (423) 778-6691 to make an appointment with our certified child passenger safety technician!