Sure, you wouldn’t dare let your tot brave freezing temps without bundling him or her up, but research shows that wearing a coat in a car seat is a major safety risk. “There is a 75 to 95 percent misuse rate with clothing and car seats,” says Cherlyn Jenkins, certified passenger safety technician, CPST and developer of the Cozywoggle, a new coat to keep young kids safe while strapped in their seats. The awareness of the dangers of bulky coats and clothing in car seats has grown, thanks to segments like this one from Today of a crash test video of a child dummy wearing a coat and getting ejected from a fastened harness at 30 mph. The video is a reminder of the hidden dangers while driving with baby on board and serves as a warning that parents may have a false sense of security that their child is safely strapped in when they are not. This mistake can lead to a serious injury or death.
“Bulky coats and clothing often require the harness to be loosened to accommodate the attire,” Jenkins explains. “The harness will appear to be tight, but the crash forces during an accident cause the bulky clothing to compress leaving extra space between the child and the harness.” (There is no age limit when it comes to seat protection: Experts say adults are also more secure when buckled in without their puffer coats.)
As most parents know, getting your child into a car seat is a time-consuming chore all by itself, nevermind when you have to get them out of a coat and you’re freezing yourself. Jenkins recommends these tips for a busy parent to keep their child protected and warm while traveling:
- Remove the coat. Secure your child in the car seat without a coat. Then place the bulky coat backwards on the child on top of the straps.
- Use a blanket. Layer infants with blankets over fastened car seat straps
- Slim down. Use a sweater or windbreaker that’s thin enough that can be used in the car seat without making adjustments to the harness.
- Invest in gear specifically designed for winter wear and car seat travel. The Cozywoggle, for example, looks and acts like a coat and is tested to be safe, or try a car seat poncho for babies and toddlers.
Read on for more common safety mistakes even the smartest parents make.