Winter Car Seat Safety: Dos and Don’ts Parents Should Know

Winter Car Seat Safety: Dos and Don’ts Parents Should Know

Everything parents need to know about winter car seat safety for their kids.


By Judy Koutsky

As winter approaches, you may already know that puffy jackets and car seats don’t mix. But how do you keep your kids warm and safe when it’s cold? Plus, what are some other tips to keep in mind when it comes to car seat safety? We put together a list of helpful tips keep your child safe. (Of course, always check the manual that came with your child’s car seat for installation and other instructions.)

DON’T: Put your child in a heavy winter coat, then in a car seat. If you add bulk between the harness straps and the child, or between the child and the car seat, the harness does not get tight enough to keep your child safe in an accident. “Every extra layer lends toward a false sense of tightness,” says Jennifer Hoekstra, injury prevention specialist and Safe Kids program coordinator at the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. You can bring the child to the car in a jacket, she adds, but be sure to remove the puffy jacket before the child gets in the seat. Or, put the child’s coat on backwards once he’s strapped into his car seat (better if the coat doesn’t have a hood). You can still keep the child in his hat, scarves, mittens, and boots. Another simple option is to carry your child to the car in a blanket, instead of a coat. Then, once you have the child in the harness, cover him with the blanket. Just make sure the blanket is over the child, not under him (which can interfere with the harness fit). If it’s possible, you can also warm up the car before putting the kids in, so they’re toasty from the start.

DO: Make sure car seat harness is snug . “It is very important that the harness straps of the car seat lie snug against the child's regular clothing,” says Hoekstra. The straps should be snug enough that when tested at the shoulder there is no room to pinch any excess slack. “Car seats are designed to protect children, but they only are [protective] when used correctly.”

DON’T: Install the car seat with any wiggle room. “ The biggest mistake most parents make is just not installing the car seat correctly,” says Dr. Riley Minster, a pediatrician at Lake Shore Pediatrics. “It's difficult to make sure the car seat is installed tightly with the appropriate tether and/or seat-anchoring system.” To test the tightness of the install, try pulling the car seat side to side at the belt path and make sure it doesn’t move more than 1 inch, says Greg Durocher, a firefighter, paramedic, and child passenger safety technician instructor. “Some other things to consider when installing the car seat are making sure you lock the seat belt (if using the seat belt to install) by either switching the seat belt to locked mode or using the built-in lockoff on the car seat. For the majority of seats currently on the market, you can only use either LATCH or the seat belt to install but not both,” says Durocher.

DO: Visit your local police, fire, or Child Passenger Safety Technicians for a car seat check. This is always the safest best. Do this especially if you’re not sure whether you installed things correctly. These officials can help go through the safety checklist to make sure everything looks good, says Durocher.

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DON’T: Allow your child to adjust the harness. Harness positions are very important and need to be changed as your child grows. Only adults should adjust them.

DO: Follow installation instructions written by the manufacturer , whether the car seat is rear-facing or forward-facing. Typically, rear-facing children will have the harness just at or coming out from below shoulder level. Forward-facing children will have the harness at or just above the shoulders, says Allana Pinkerton, child passenger safety advocate.

DON’T: Assume a used or older car seat is safe , just because it appears to be in good condition. Make sure your child seat is within the validity date and has not expired. This is especially worth noting if you’re using a car seat from an older child. Plus, make sure the car seat has not been recalled.

DO: Clean car seats . Dirty car seats can be dangerous. When food and juice get trapped in the buckles, it may become difficult to quickly remove a child in an emergency, says Jennifer Beall, certified passenger safety technician. Make sure to wipe down after spills and clean out gunk that can get trapped in the harness or buckle.

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DON’T: Move kids to the next stage car seat prematurely . In the same way that we all want to move our children to the next development stage, sometimes that is confused with moving the child to the next car seat. “Kids should be rear-facing until age 2 (not age 1) and must be tilted back far enough so the child isn't sitting too upright when facing backwards,” says Minster. “Remember, it's the weight of a child that is important when moving from infant seats to child seats, not the child's length. It's perfectly OK for your kid to have their knees in their face when in a rear-facing seat." Minster also adds that the middle location is much safer than being behind the driver or passenger seat in case of a side-impact accident.

Lastly, some parents also ditch the booster seat prematurely. Check the height/weight restrictions on the booster before removing it.

And remember, the back seat is still the safest place for kids. It’s best for parents to have their children ride there until they are at least 13 years old, says Durocher.

How do you keep your child warm in the car in the winter?


Judy Koutsky is the former Editorial Director of KIWI magazine, a green parenting publication. She was also Executive Editor of Parenting.com, AOL Parent and BabyTalk.com. Follow her on Twitter @JudyKoutsky.

Image via National Highway Traffic Safety Administration


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