Thick Coats and Snowsuits Can Reduce Car Seat Safety

Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician Teresa McCloskey of Wyoming County shared the following information for EML readers:

As the first snows of winter start to swirl and parents bundle children in winter coats or snowsuits, it’s important to remember that bulky clothing can be dangerous for children when riding in a car seat. In order for a child’s car seat to function properly, the harness straps need to close to the child’s body and snug at all times. That means nothing but a layer of clothing should be between the child and the seat back and straps. Parents may think they have snugged the harness enough but, in a crash, thick coats will compress enough to create a lot of slack in the harness. With slack in a harness, the extreme crash forces can cause the child to be ejected from the seat. 

Check All Winter Coats for Car Seat Safety

It’s easy to check and see whether a baby’s winter coat or infant snowsuit is too thick to be safe in a car seat. This test will show you how thick the coat is and how much it will compress during a crash:

1. Put the winter coat or snowsuit on the child and buckle her in car seat as you normally would, adjusting the straps as needed to buckle the seat.

2. Now take the child out of the car seat without loosening the straps at all.

3. Take the coat off and put the child back in the car seat and buckle the harnesses again, but do not tighten the straps.

4. How loose are the straps? If you can fit more than two fingers under the harness at the child’s shoulder bone, the coat is too thick and is not safe for use with the car seat.

Keep Baby Warm and Safe

Try these ideas for keeping kids warm while still traveling safely.

  The easiest way to keep kids warm and safe is to warm the car up before putting the kids in. Keep a small blanket in the car to wrap children while going between the building and car.

  Dress babies warmly in normal clothes like a long-sleeve shirt, sweatshirt, long pants and a hat. Buckle the baby into the seat, and then cover with a light blanket tucked around the sides. Make sure nothing is behind baby’s back or under the straps! Drape another heavier blanket over the top of the seat if needed.

  For infant seats, only use a car seat cover that fits over the front of the seat once the baby is buckled in (similar to a shower cap). Do not use covers that go under the baby and under the straps. There should be nothing other than the child’s clothing under him or between him and straps. These accessory products have not been crash tested with your seat and there is no way of knowing how it will change the function of the car seat. Often the packaging states that the product “meets all federal car seat safety guidelines.” However, there are no federal guidelines governing these or any after-market accessories.

 For older babies and toddlers, take the child’s coat off before buckling them into the car seat. Once the harnesses are secure, put the child’s coat on backwards over their arms so their hands are free. This will keep them warm without compromising safety.

  When buying winter coats, keep thickness and car seat safety in mind. Polar fleece outerwear is warm but thin, making it a smart choice for winter baby wear.

Get the most from your car seat

Unlike most childhood milestones, moving to the next level of car seat is not a milestone to be celebrated. Rear-facing to forward-facing to booster seat to seat belt alone…every step is a step back in safety. Use each car seat until your child reaches the weight and height limits found on the side of each seat. Outdated safety recommendations called for children to stay rear-facing until at least one year and 20 pounds. Analysis of crash test data and actual crashes has proven that children are much safer riding rear-facing until 18 to 24 months, or until they reach the weight and height limits of a convertible seat (about 35 pounds). The extreme forces of even “minor” crashes can cause severe and even fatal injuries to a forward-facing child’s neck and spine. The rear-facing position keeps the neck and spine in alignment and allows the child to “ride down” the force of the crash. Rear-facing might not be the most convenient for Mom and Dad but it’s safest for the kids!

When In Doubt, Ask a Car Seat Technician to Check Your Seat

The threat of icy, snow-covered roads makes even short trips more dangerous at this time of year. A Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician will check your car seat to be sure your child is as safe as possible. A CPS tech will check the fit of your seat and adjust the harness straps for the best fit; check the recall database for current recalls and install your seat safely in your car. Communities That Care of Wyoming County offers these services free of charge. Call 570-996-2264 to schedule a free safety check or for answers to your child passenger safety questions. To find a CPS technician outside this area, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website at and click on Child Seat Inspection Station Locater.

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