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Car Seat Safety in Winter Months

By Abbe Herman

This story is brought to you by Britax

As an active Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technician (2002-Present) and Instructor (2004-Present),  Sarah Tilton is the Britax Americas safety spokesperson within the advocacy community participating in child passenger safety activities at a local, state and national level.  She is currently active with the Safe Kids South Carolina, Safe Kids York County (SC), Safe Kids North Carolina, and Charlotte Mecklenburg (NC) coalitions. She has also held leadership positions as a member of the National Child Passenger Safety Board representing the At Large population and the Manufacturers Alliance for Child Passenger Safety. Sarah is an internationally recognized CPS advocate and is deeply embedded in the study and advancement of child passenger safety. She is highly involved in public outreach programs, practical automobile safety training & research and child passenger technician training.

BCB recently caught up with Sarah Tilton to understand the basics of car seat safety as winter approaches.

Q: There’s so much confusion out there about how to keep kids warm and in their car seats during the cooler months. Can you explain the root of this confusion?

A: Even though the car seat harness may seem snug on your child while wearing a coat, in the event of a crash, the coat could compress, creating slack in the harness that allows your child to move about in the seat.

Q: So how can you keep your baby safe and comfortable during chilly weather?

A: First, it’s important to know how to tell if your child’s harness is tight enough, whether they’re wearing a winter coat or a t-shirt. To make sure your child’s harness is snug enough, perform the simple Pinch Test:

  1. Secure your child in the car seat and buckle the harness as usual.
  2. Using your thumb and pointer finger, try to pinch one of the harness straps at your child’s collar bone level.
  3. If you’re able to pinch the strap, the harness is too loose. You should not be able to pinch any excess webbing.

Q: Do you have other advice to parents for proper harness use?

A: Always check the tightness of the harness strap every time you buckle children into their car seats, especially when they are wearing heavy coats.

Q: How do I know if my child’s coat is safe for her to wear under their harness?

A: Now that you know what a properly snug harness looks like, you can check if your child’s coat is acceptable to wear in a car seat:

  1. Secure your child in the car seat while wearing the coat in question.
  2. Properly tighten the car seat harness around your child until the harness webbing cannot be vertically pinched at your child’s collar bone.
  3. Remove your child from the car seat WITHOUT loosening the harness system.
  4. Remove the coat and secure your child back in the car seat WITHOUT adjusting (loosening/tightening) the harness.
  5. If the buckle and chest clip are still secure without the coat, and the harness webbing CANNOT be vertically pinched at your child’s collarbone, then the coat is acceptable. If the harness webbing CAN be vertically pinched, then the coat is too thick and should not be worn with the car seat.

Q: What do you recommend for parents trying to keep their kids warm and safe in the really cold areas of the country?

A: If your child’s coat is too bulky to be worn with the car seat, you may consider some of these alternatives for keeping your child warm in your vehicle:

  • Preheat your vehicle.
  • Put a coat on your child backwards after the harness is properly tightened.
  • Drape a blanket over your child.
  • Consider a coat made out of very thin but warm material.

This story was brought to you by:

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