Don't Make This Common Car Seat Mistake

Winter car seat safety tips released by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Consumer Reports

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Beth Bolt, RPh

In the wintertime, do you strap your child into his car seat all bundled up? If so, you may be putting him in danger.

As a general rule, children should not be placed in car seats wearing bulky clothing like winter coats and snowsuits, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Consumer Reports (CR). That's because padded clothing immediately flattens out in a car crash — leaving extra space under the harness that a child can easily slip through and be thrown from the seat.

These tips from the AAP and CR will help parents keep little ones safe and warm all the way over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house — or wherever you're traveling with your child this winter season.

Is Your Child's Coat Too Bulky?

Consumer Reports recommends these simple steps to check whether your child's coat is safe to wear while in a car seat:

  • Put your child's coat on, sit her in the car seat and fasten the harness.
  • Tighten until you can no longer pinch any of the harness webbing with your thumb and forefinger.
  • Without loosening the harness, remove your child from the child seat and take her coat off.
  • Put your child back in the child seat and buckle the harness.
  • If you can now pinch the webbing between your thumb and forefinger, her coat is too bulky to safely be worn in the car seat.

How to Safely Transport Your Child in the Cold

If you find that your child's coat can not be safely worn, there are some things you can do to keep her safe and warm while riding in the car.

The AAP recommends the following tips:

  • Store the carrier portion of the car seat indoors when not in use. Keeping the seat at room temperature will reduce the loss of your child's body heat in a cold car.
  • Dress your child in thin layers. Start with close-fitting layers on the bottom, like leggings or a long-sleeve bodysuit. Then add warmer layers on top, like pants or a thermal shirt. A thin fleece jacket can be worn over top. In very cold weather, long underwear is another safe layering option. As a general rule of thumb, babies should wear one more layer than adults.
  • Don't forget hats, mittens, and socks or booties. These will help keep your child warm without interfering with car seat straps.
  • Tighten the straps of the car seat harness. Even if your child looks securely strapped in, multiple layers may make it difficult to tighten the harness enough. If you can pinch the straps of the car seat harness, then it needs to be tightened more.
  • Lay a coat or blanket over your child after he is buckled in. This layer should be removable so your child doesn't get too hot when the car warms up.
  • Use a car seat cover only if it does not have a layer under your child. Nothing should go under your child's body, or between her body and the harness straps. Just because a product is on store shelves doesn't always mean it's safe.
  • Pack an emergency bag in your car. Essentials include extra blankets, dry clothing, hats, gloves and non-perishable snacks.
  • Get an early start. If you're planning to travel with your child in the winter, you may need extra time to get him dressed and the car seat ready. Driving in cold conditions may also require you to slow down and be extra cautious.

This Rule Isn't Just for Kids

It’s not just babies and young children riding in car seats whose coats shouldn’t be tucked under the harness — adults and older children should also make sure their bulky winter coats aren't interfering with the seat belt.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 4, 2016
Last Updated:
January 5, 2016