While warm, puffy jackets can keep children warm this winter, they also pose a threat to their safety when worn underneath seatbelts in car seats. Given that car crashes are the number one killer of children up to age 13, AAA East Central advises parents to limit the layers of padding or clothing between a child and their harnesses.
For people of all ages, seatbelts are best worn close to the body, and have long been proven to help the body slow down and protect the brain and spinal cord in the event of a crash. When a seatbelt is fitted over a puffy jacket, the jacket can compress in a crash and create a gap between the harness and the child. That gap is like a loose belt, and can cause the child to slip through the restraint – or worse, they can even be ejected.
“Harness straps should lay flat and snug against your body, and not have any twists or padding,” says Lynda Lambert, safety advisor and media spokesperson, AAA East Central. “Parents should buckle their kids in cars without jackets first, and then cover them with something like a blanket. The seatbelt should be snug enough that you can’t pinch any of the strap material at the child’s shoulder.”
AAA East Central offers tips for safely buckling a child into their seat during the winter months:
Warm up the car before your trip. Passengers won’t feel the cold as much if the car is heated, allowing them to wear seatbelts comfortably without a jacket.
Keep the seat inside. Keeping the car seat inside the house will keep it warm, as well as making it easier to secure the child.
Wear a thin coat in the car. Fleece outerwear is recommended because it is thin enough to work well under seat belts, yet warm enough to keep your child comfortable.
Use a backward coat. Secure the child in the car seat without their coat on, and once the child is snugly strapped into the car seat, put their coat on them backward or wrap them with a blanket. Never fit a seat belt over the blanket. Children can also wear a hat and or gloves to help keep warm.