Whether traveling to school or over the hill, the well-being of our children comes first. These winter car seat safety tips will make sure your children are dressed and secured appropriately when temperatures are low.
It’s been an especially cold winter in northern Nevada this year. And the future forecast? More cold in sight. The winter cold can be a tricky time for car seats: While parents want to keep their children warm, they need to resist the temptation to bundle children before strapping them into their car seats.
Winter Car Seat Safety Tips
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) notes that the most important tip to remember is this: Strap, then Wrap. Yes, it’s cold outside, but a bulky coat can compress in a crash, creating a loose car seat harness, which puts your child at greater risk of injury in a crash. The safest rule to follow when loading your child is strap, then wrap: Strap your child in the car seat, and then cover them with a blanket or put the coat on backwards.
Below are more tips provided on “Winter Car Seat Safety Tips from the AAP” to help you strike that perfect balance between keeping little ones snug and safely buckled in their seats:
- Store the carrier portion of infant seats inside the house when not in use. Keeping the seat at room temperature will reduce loss of the child’s body heat in the car.
- Get an early start. If you’re planning to head out the door with your little ones in tow on winter mornings, you need an early start. You have a lot to assemble, and the kids may not be the most cooperative. Plus, driving in wintry conditions will require you to slow down and be extra cautious.
- Dress your child in thin layers. Start with close-fitting layers on the bottom, like tights, leggings and long-sleeved bodysuits. Then add pants and 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 good 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.
- Don’t forget hats, mittens, and socks or booties. These help keep kids warm without interfering with car seat straps. If your child is a thumb sucker, consider half-gloves with open fingers. Or keep an extra pair or two of mittens handy — once wet they’ll make your child colder rather than warmer.
- 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. The best way to make sure your child’s harness is adjusted correctly year-round is the pinch test: First, remove bulky clothing and blankets. Make sure the harness straps are adjusted to the correct height — they should be at or below the child’s shoulders when the child rides rear-facing, and at or above the child’s shoulders when facing forward. Buckle and tighten the harness straps, and place the chest clip at armpit level. Now pinch the strap at your child’s shoulder. If you are unable to pinch any excess webbing, the straps are snug and you can be on your way!
- Use a coat or blanket over the straps. You can drape a blanket or put your child’s winter coat on backwards over the buckled harness straps after they are securely fastened. Some parents prefer products such as poncho-style coats or jackets that zip down the sides so the back can flip forward over the harness. Keep in mind that the top layer should be removable so your child doesn’t get too hot after the car warms up.
- Use a car seat cover ONLY if it does not have a layer under the baby. Nothing should ever go underneath or between your child’s body and the harness straps. Be sure to leave baby’s face uncovered to avoid trapped air and re-breathing. Be mindful that many retailers carry car seat bundling products (designed for protecting your baby while walking in the cold) that are not safe to use in a car seat. Just because it’s on the shelf at the store does not mean it’s safe for use in cars!
- If the item did not come with the car seat, it has not been crash tested and may interfere with the protection provided in an accident. Never use sleeping bag inserts or other stroller accessories in the car seat.
- Pack an emergency bag for your car. Keep extra blankets, dry clothing, hats and gloves, and non-perishable snacks in your car should your children get wet on a winter outing or in case of an on-road emergency.
Another great all-weather tip: Buckle up! Studies show that adults who are properly restrained have children who are also restrained; when adults wear seatbelts, kids wear seatbelts. So be a good example for your kids and buckle up on every trip — even short ones. Risk of injury in an accident is reduced when everyone in the vehicle is strapped in.
To learn more about car seat safety or make an appointment to have your child’s seat installed correctly, visit Renown Children’s Hospital Car Seat Safety Program.