CARS.COM — It's cold out and you're hitting the road. Two must-haves for your kids are a warm coat and a properly installed child-safety seat. This is obvious; what isn't is that a bulky coat combined with a car seat can lead to dangerously loose harness straps.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 70% of car seats are used incorrectly. How you place your child in the safety seat matters, as does what they're wearing.
"When a child is wearing a thick coat, it's hard to tell if you have a good harness fit, which is crucial. A coat can add a lot of slack, reducing the level of protection for your child in a crash." NHTSA said in a statement.
We talked with certified child safety seat installation technician Darren Qunell from CarSeatBlog.com, a site that tests car seats and blogs about safety issues, about how parents can make sure their kids are both safe and warm in the car this winter. Qunell said problems with strap tightness arise because parents tend to loosen the harness to accommodate a thick jacket.
"In a crash, that insulation will be compressed, potentially leaving the harness loose enough to allow for the child's head to strike part of the interior or to be ejected from the harness altogether," he said.
He offered the following tips:
- Put your child in the car seat without a coat on and adjust the harness correctly. The straps should be snug; you shouldn’t be able to pinch more than an inch of strap webbing.
- Then, take your child out of the seat, but do not loosen the harness.
- Put your child in a coat and put him or her back in the car seat. If you don't have to loosen the harness to get the child strapped in the seat, the coat is acceptable.
- If it's too bulky and you have to loosen the straps, the coat shouldn't be worn because it compromises the tightness of the straps and the child's safety in a crash.
Making your kids go without a coat sounds cruel though, right? They don't have to be cold to be safely restrained. A blanket over the car seat will work in the place of a thick coat, as will putting the child's coat on backward after getting strapped in.
Qunell also recommends a product like the Car Seat Poncho, which fits over the harness after your child is secure. Strapping your child in wearing a coat, but zipping the coat over the connected harness could also work, depending on the coat. We tested this method; check out our image tutorial below:
Step one: Place the child into the safety seat with the coat unzipped. Pull each shoulder section of the coat away from the child's body, so the straps go under coat.
Step two: With the coat still unzipped, strap and buckle the child into the seat, making sure the harness clip and straps are snug against the child’s body.
Step three: Zip the coat over the straps.