Why Winter Coats Cause a Car Seat/Seat Belt Hazard for Kids

Staff Writer
Baystateparent Magazine

Winter is time to get flu shots, take extra Vitamin C, stay hydrated, and bundle up. If you are spending time outdoors in cold weather, wearing heavy coats is a necessity.

However, when your child rides in his or her car seat wrapped up in a heavy winter coat, the harness will not be protecting them properly. Wearing such a bulky coat and being strapped into a 5-point harness is also hot and uncomfortable, making it a miserable car ride for a child.

Harness webbing, like seat belt webbing, secures an occupant in the vehicle during a crash. Belt webbing “likes” bone. This is why it is necessary for the belts to fit across the strongest bones in our bodies — our hips, thighs, chest, and shoulders. Seat belts and harness webbing not only keep us from being ejected in a crash, but they also help with “ride down,” allowing the crash forces to spread across the strongest parts of the body. This is important in order to reduce injuries and death.

The harness might feel tight when you buckle a child while they’re wearing a heavy coat. But during a crash, all of that extra fabric will compress, leaving the harness with too much slack. The safest option is to harness your child first, then put their coat on backwards over the harness, or wrap them in a blanket over the harness. This way, the harness is properly tightened and they still stay nice and warm. Adults are also at risk when wearing a winter coat under the lap/shoulder belt. At the very least, we should unbutton our coats when riding in the car. The best option is to remove your coat all together.

Remember, proper fit for a 5-point harness means snug and comfortable, and you cannot pinch the webbing at the collarbone. With older children in booster seats, be sure the lap belt is low on the hips/high on the thighs and the shoulder portion is on the center of the collarbone. This goes for adults, too. If you are pregnant, the rules stay the same.

Other important winter travel tips:

• Make sure you have the proper tires on your car and that your treads are still in good shape.

• Carry chains with you.

• Throw a safety/supply kit in the car. You never know when bad weather might leave you stranded. Be sure to pack blankets, food, water, diapers, wipes, etc. for emergencies.

• Always carry an extra charging pack for your cell phone. Even if you are just going a few miles from home, always be prepared.

• Be sure the heat is working in the car.

• Keep your gas tank full, rather than on fumes.

• Give yourself plenty of extra time to get to your destination.

• Keep a safe distance between yourself and the car ahead of you, and make sure your brakes are in good working order.

• When you reach your destination, “Look Before You Lock “and do not leave your child unattended in the car, no matter what. Even a few minutes in cold temperatures can be dangerous for a baby.

Stay safe and look forward to those warm summer days.

Allana Pinkerton has been a Certified CPS Technician for over 10 years. She has worked in children's hospitals and at community events with companies such as Blue Cross Blue Shield and State Farm. She is currently the Global Safety Advocate for car seat manufacturer Diono.