Winter coats are Dangerous in Car Seats

child in car seats with coats on their laps

With Middle Tennessee temperatures plummeting, it’s a good time to remember that children should never wear their coats while strapped into a car seat. (There’s a way to keep them warm, though — we’ll get to that in a moment.) Though my children are grown now, I wish I would have known the importance of this safety measure as a young mother.

You might have seen the recent segment of NBC’s “Today” show with a demonstration of how a child can be flung from a car seat in a crash if he or she is wearing a coat (see the video here).

So what really happens in a crash? Winter coats give the false perception that the harness straps are tight against your child’s body when, in fact, they are several inches too loose. In a crash, the coat can compress and produce a loose harness, which can result in the child’s whole body coming out of the car seat, causing severe injuries or even death.

Don’t believe this is possible? Try this simple test to ease your mind.

  • Place your child in the car seat with a winter coat on and tighten the harness straps as you normally would for travel.
  • Next, undo the car seat buckle WITHOUT loosening the harness straps.
  • Now take the coat off your child, put him or her back in the seat and buckle the harness.
  • Use the pinch test to check the harness for tightness: Try pinching the harness fabric together near the child’s shoulders. When the harness is snug, your fingers should just slide off the harness as you try to pinch it together. If you can pinch a bit of harness between your fingers, the straps are too loose. Chances are you will need to tighten your harness to get it as snug as it needs to be to properly fit your child.

It is always important to make sure your child is snug in the car seat. When properly harnessed, the plastic retainer or chest clip should be across the child’s chest at armpit level. Use the pinch test to check for tightness.

So how do you keep your children warm? Take them to the car with a blanket or coat around them. Once you get to the car, take the blanket/coat off and secure the child in the car seat. You can then place the blanket or coat over the body as long as it is not covering the face and obstructing breathing.

Other cold-weather safety notes: Remember never to leave your car running in the garage, never leave your car running with your child inside it, and never place anything underneath your child in a car seat or between your child and the harness. This includes winter coats! 

It might take an extra minute or two to get your child strapped in and cozy, but that precious cargo is worth the effort.