Baby, it's Cold Outside!

What You Need to Know about Winter Car Seat Safety

Winter brings with it frosty windshields, snow to shovel, and icy roads.  Winter coats and snowsuits are a necessity for keeping warm while building the perfect snowman or making a snow angel, but when it comes to car rides, a little more planning is needed to keep your little one both warm and safe in their car seat.

Since a car seat protects a child in a crash by spreading the force of an impact over the strongest parts of their body, the harness needs to be positioned and tightened properly to offer the best protection. A correctly snug harness doesn’t allow any slack and lies in a relatively straight line without pushing your child’s body into an unnatural position. Bulky winter coats and snowsuits can make it difficult to get a child properly positioned in the car seat, as their extra thickness can influence the position of the harness or lead to difficulty keeping the straps on your little one’s shoulders.

Staying warm and safe in a car seat starts with choosing warm but thin layers. Fleece sweaters, thin down jackets, or lightweight coats are all great choices for the car, and are practical outside the vehicle as the weather changes along with the seasons. It’s also important to choose outerwear in a size that fits your kiddo well in order to limit excess fabric that may add too much bulk.

The clothing chosen should be thin enough that you’re able to place your child in the seat, properly tighten the harness, and then remove them from the seat without needing to loosen the straps. Once out of the seat, you can remove the layer, then place your child back in the seat and buckle them in, checking for any excess slack in the harness with the jacket or sweater removed.

It may be necessary to tighten the straps a very slight amount after removing the layer, but if there is significant slack or visible difference in how the harness is positioned on your little one, then that layer is likely too thick to safely use in the car seat.

Heavier winter coats, scarves, and mittens can always be used between the house and the car to keep your kiddo warm when exposed to the elements. A wrapped blanket may also be a good choice if your child is young and small enough to be carried in and out of the vehicle. Wearable blankets, sometimes known as car seat ponchos, are available for older toddlers and preschoolers, so is another option for the short trip to and from the car. In really cold climates it can be helpful to use your child’s heavy coat as a blanket once they’re safely buckled in, or may be worn backwards to help keep them warm while the car warms up.

If your child is using a booster seat, it’s important to check that the vehicle belt fits properly and close to the body if wearing heavier and warmer layers. Lifting up the bottom of the jacket will remove any extra bulk and allow the belt to fit low on the hips. Unzipping a winter coat and pulling it to the side will also allow for the shoulder belt to fit close to the body.

So while winter creates some unique challenges when it comes to transporting your family safely, it’s possible for you and your little ones to stay both warm and safe as you travel with just a little planning!