I don't know about you, but getting my children fed, dressed, and to school on time every morning is quite a task. Despite my best planning and preparation, I always feel like I have run a marathon by 9 am when I drop them off. Now that it’s cold outside, we seem to have more "stuff" in the form of hats, coats, and gloves that we are lugging to the car. But one thing we should all be very careful NOT to do for the sake of convenience is to put our children in their car seats while wearing their winter coats.
One of the biggest mistakes parents and caregivers don't know they are making is putting a child in a car seat wearing a heavy coat. Maybe you have even seen recent news stories on this subject with videos of crash simulations, like this one. Simply put, when children wear bulky coats in their car seats, the straps are not tight enough to protect them in a crash - even if you think they are tightly secured.
To demonstrate, Wilson was willing help us out with a few photos. Below, in the photo on the left, you can see Wilson strapped in his car seat wearing his winter coat. The straps appear to be as tight as possible. Then we removed him from the car seat without loosening the straps, took off his coat, and put him back in the car seat. You can see on the right just how loose the car seat harness is without his coat. A winter coat creates a bulky space that does not allow the harness to tighten properly against the body. Essentially, wearing a coat in the car seat is the equivalent of not tightening the harness at all.
Now, you may be thinking, "But my kids are going to be cold." If it is really cold outside, have your children wear their coats to the car and take them off before getting into their car seats. You can also put their coats on backwards, like Wilson is demonstrating below. Another option is to keep a small blanket in your car to keep them warm while they ride.
You may also be thinking, "This is really inconvenient." Many child safety experts would argue that a little extra inconvenience or being cold for a few seconds is far better than having your child injured in an accident because your child was not properly strapped into the car seat. If your child's school has a carpool line, the teachers can either help your child put on the coat before getting out of the car or wrap the coat around your child as they walk into the building.
If you want to test whether or not your child's coat is bulky enough to create a safety issue, you can do the same exercise we conducted with Wilson. Put your child in the car seat with the coat on and tighten the straps to the correct tightness. Then take your child out without loosening the straps, remove the coat, and put your child back in the car seat. Then test to see if you can pinch any slack in the strap at the shoulder between your thumb and index finger. If you can pinch any slack in the strap, the coat is not safe to wear in the car seat.
As parents, grandparents, and caregivers, we all want our children to be safe. This is one small step you can take to prevent serious injury. Make sure you always practice appropriate car seat safety and inform others, who may not transport children often, so they can make sure to protect children as well.