Winter Driving and Car Seat Safetyby Elizabeth MacDonald
Car seat accidents are the leading cause of death of children ages 12 and younger.
As many as 75% of car seats are installed incorrectly.After reading reviews, ordering the safest car seat for your car and child, ensuring your child will be rear facing for as long as possible, and then reading the manual cover to cover (twice) and having the installation checked by a car seat technician, you may feel pretty confident that you’ve got this car seat safety thing nailed. And I must say, you are steps ahead of most parents. However, winter adds a whole new element to keeping your child safe in the car. No matter where you live, if there is ever a moment you decide it is cold enough to put your infant, toddler, or child into a coat or jacket, then please read on.
- Make sure the car seat straps are at the appropriate level: just below shoulders when rear facing and just above shoulders when forward facing.
- The chest clip should be level with the armpits. A clip left too low puts a child at risk for being ejected from the car seat in an accident.
- Pinch Test: Pinch the buckled straps to check for excess fabric. Adjust the tightness until you are unable to pinch the fabric.
You want to ensure your child is warm enough, but yet not jeopardize his safety in the car. So what is wrong with wearing a jacket, coat, or snowsuit in a car seat? The straps may feel tight, tight enough to pass the “pinch test,” when you buckle your baby into the seat in a warm winter coat, but that is deceptive. The problem lies in the fabric a coat is made from. You may think that the straps have compressed the fabric as tight as possible, but the truth is that an accident would further compress the jacket, leaving the straps loose enough to throw your child from the car seat. The force of the collision causes the compression which creates a gap larger than you would think (up to four inches) between the harness and your child.
- Avoid Bulky Clothing: While you want your little one to stay warm, it's not safe to strap him into the car seat with a bulky coat or other clothing. Rather than wearing unsafe items, layer child and use fleece, a safe option.
- Nothing between child and straps or child and car seat: No extra blankets or products should be placed between child and the car seat itself.
- Check the Weather: Know the forecast before you head outside. Pack extra clothing and prepare for the possibility of more severe weather.
- Prepare for Bad Conditions: Icy roads present serious danger to drivers. You should slow down and drive safely all year, but especially when there may be slippery roads. In case you get stuck in the snow or other adverse conditions, always have an emergency supply in the car. Pack some age-appropriate snacks, food, and water in the trunk. Also include extra clothing, flashlights, a first aid kit, and blankets. Being stuck in a cold car with small children would not be a fun day, and it can happen easily on icy roads. So keep an emergency kit on hand just in case. Here are a few more tips to keep your family safe in the event of a winter car emergency.
- Make sure your cell phone is charged up and you have current numbers for your insurance company and mechanic.
- Never let your gas tank go below ½ tank without refilling.
- Have some snacks in the car suitable for everyone in the family.
- Include a first aid kit and an emergency kit with flares and a flashlight.
What now? How do I keep my baby warm?
- Layers: Instead of thinking winter coat, think layers. Fleece is the best option, as it is thin enough to allow the harness of the car seat to tighten sufficiently. Layering with long underwear or thermal under layers first is a smart option, then topping with daily clothing, and finishing with a fleece jacket or fleece footed pajama for an infant (No shoes needed for baby). A winter coat can still be worn from house to car and car to wherever it is you are headed, but it only takes 20 seconds or so to take the coat off before buckling the child.
- Warm Up the Car: Try to plan your car trip well enough to start the engine prior to bringing child outside. Warm the car up, free it of any ice removal needed, check the tailpipe for packed ice, etc.
- Backward Coat: If the fleece and layers are no warm enough, or you did not have time to warm the car before entering it, use the winter coat backward, over the harness. Buckle the child correctly and then place the jacket on top of them with their arms in the arm holes.
- Blanket or Car Seat Safe Winter Cover: Easier than using the jacket backward is to just top correctly belted child with a warm blanket. They can kick it off if they are too warm. The key is to make sure that there is nothing between the child and the car seat or the child and the harness. There are several products on the market that work well too. However, READ YOUR MANUAL. There are specific rules and recommendations for each car seat. Do not jeopardize your child’s safety by choosing a product that does not work with your seat.
Wonderful Winter Car Seat Resources: