Child Seat Cold Weather Safety

John R. Yannaccone, PE, Senior Mechanical Engineer ::::
As the weather starts to turn cooler, the need to add layers to keep warm begins. However, everyone needs to make sure the added layers do not compromise safety. This is especially true when it comes to children who are in child seats. While we all want our children to stay warm during a car ride, we need to be sure we are doing it in a safe way.
One of the major problems seen is dressing children in bulky or puffy coats. As the general rule, bulky coats should not be worn under the harness of a child seat. These coats prevent the harness from being tightened to the child’s body and compromise the safety of the child seat by reducing the effectiveness of the harness.
Frequently, the next question people ask is, “How do I know if my child’s coat is too bulky?”
There is a simple test you can perform to see if your child’s coat is bulky, and will cause the harness to be less effective. Start by putting your child’s coat on them, place them in their child seat, and tighten the harness. A properly tightened harness is one that you cannot pinch the harness webbing between your fingers.
Next, without loosening the harness adjustor(s), unbuckle the harness and take your child out of the child seat. Take your child’s coat off and place them back into the child seat and buckle the harness without adjusting the straps. Try and pinch the webbing as you did before. Is there more slack than there was when your child had their coat on? If so, the coat is too bulky to wear under the harness. The slack you see is what would be seen in a crash when the puffiness of the coat is compressed by the forces of the crash, and would reduce how well the harness restrains your child.
So how do you keep your child warm in the car if they have a coat that is too bulky to wear under the harness? Following are some options:

  • See if you can find a less bulky coat, i.e. a thinner fabric like an insulated sweatshirt or fleece coat which can provide warmth without bulk.
  • Have your child remove their bulky jacket before they get in the child seat. After harnessing them in, cover them with a blanket. This is a good method if you are using a carrier style child seat since you can harness the child in and cover them with a blanket before going outside.
  • Rather than a blanket, you can also place the child’s coat on them backwards after they are harnessed into the child seat. In this case, the coat serves as a blanket with arms.

Remember, no matter which of these options you choose, harnessing a child too loosely in their child seat is one of the most common errors made. Leaving slack in the harness will increase the movement of a child in a crash, and can even allow them to be ejected from the child seat. You still need to tighten the harness so you cannot pinch the webbing. Taking these steps will help keep your children warm and safe during your travels in colder weather.
John R. Yannaccone, PE, Senior Mechanical Engineer with DJS Associates Inc., can be reached via email at experts@forensicDJS.com or via phone at 215-659-2010.