As winter approaches, we are all breaking out the hats, mittens and bulky coats. Leaving your house or apartment in the bitter cold and walking out to your car can feel like a walk through an ice palace. While staying warm and cozy is important, staying safe yourself and keeping your family safe is paramount.
Winter is an especially tough time for children who travel in car seats. As a general rule, bulky clothing, including winter coats and snowsuits, should not be worn underneath the harness of a car seat. In a car crash, a bulky jacket will flatten against the force of the harness, creating extra space between the straps and your child. Additionally, when the straps are too loose, a child can be ejected from their car seat.
While it’d critical to keep children safe, adults should also consider ways to balance keeping warm and safe. In fact, wearing a puffy coat yourself with the seat belt is not a best practice because it adds space between your body and the seat belt. These tips from the Consumer Reports and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) will help parents strike that perfect balance between keeping little ones warm as well as safely buckled in their car seats.
For infants, store the carrier portion of infant seats inside the house. Keeping the seat at room temperature will reduce the loss of the child's body heat in the car.
Plan ahead and give yourself extra time. It’s always smart to give yourself extra time for driving in wintry conditions that require you to slow down and be extra cautious. Also, plan for extra time to get yourself and your family secure in the car.
Layer up. Start with close-fitting layers on the bottom, like tights, leggings, and long-sleeved bodysuits. Then add pants and a warmer top, like a sweater or thermal-knit shirt. Your child can wear a thin fleece jacket over the top. In very cold weather, long underwear is also a warm and safe layering option. As a general rule of thumb, infants should wear one more layer than adults. If you have a hat and a coat on, your infant will probably need a hat, coat, and blanket. And don't forget hats, mittens, and socks or booties.
Tighten the straps of the car seat harness. Even if your child looks snuggly bundled up in the car seat, 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 to fit snugly against your child's chest.
Use a coat or blanket over the straps and avoid specialty products. You can add a blanket over the top of the harness straps or put your child's winter coat on backwards (over the buckled harness straps) after he or she is buckled up. Use caution when purchasing specialty car seat covers. Just because a product is sold in stores doesn't mean that it is safe to use. Also, if a child becomes too hot, they may not be able to remove the cover like they can a blanket.
Pack an emergency bag for your car. Keep extra blankets, dry clothing, hats and gloves, and non-perishable snacks in your car in case of an on-road emergency or your child gets wet on a winter outing.
Brandon J Broderick, Car Accident Attorney
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