DAYTON — Warm puffy jackets can be protection from cold winter weather, but they can pose a danger when they are worn underneath a seat belt putting occupants—especially children—at risk of injury in the event of a crash. Seat belts for people of all ages 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 impact.
According to AAA safety experts, for a child’s car seat to offer the maximum protection in a crash, the harness or seat belt needs to be snug and as close to the child’s body as possible.
“Car crashes are the number one killer of children up to age 13,” says AAA Public Affairs Manager, Cindy Antrican. “Parents should buckle their kids in car seats and seat belts without jackets first, then either tuck a blanket around them or have kids lay their jackets on their laps or wear it backwards. Seat belts need to be fitted to the passenger, not the jacket.”
The more layers of padding or clothing between a child and the harness, the harder it is to properly fit the restraint. The seat belt can end up fitting to the puffy jacket, and when impact occurs, the jacket compresses and creates a gap between the passenger and the seat belt. That gap is like a loose seat belt that can cause a passenger to slip through the restraint or worse be ejected from the seat. The same concept applies to children riding in booster seats and adults in seat belts. Harness straps should lay flat and not have any twists. The seat belt should be snug enough that you cannot pinch any extra webbing or strap material at the child’s shoulder.
Another important consideration is that children do not need to wear heavy coats, hats and gloves in a warmed-up car. Too many layers can cause the child to become overheated and cranky, potentially causing a distraction for the driver. Even the smallest babies need only one more layer of clothing than their parents to remain comfortable. Is there a better way? AAA experts offer methods for safely buckling a child into their seat during the cold, winter months.
• Warm up the car before your trip. Passengers won’t feel the cold as much if the car is heated. This will allow passengers to wear seat belts comfortably without a jacket. Please note, that if you are warming the car with passengers inside, make sure that the exhaust pipe is cleared of snow so fumes don’t back into the car.
• Lose the bulk, wear a thin coat in the car. Fleece outer wear is recommend because it is thin enough to work well under seat belts, yet warm enough to keep your child comfortable. Choose something more lightweight than a snow suit.
• The backwards 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 backwards. This method keeps the harness snug to the child and allows the child freedom to remove their coat if they get too warm.
• Open coat. Some coats and most fleece jackets are thin enough to wear safely in the car, however, an alternative is to have the child put their coat on but don’t zip it up. Load the child into the car seat and secure the belt, making sure that it fits snugly.
• The “shower cap” style cover placed over the rear-facing infant carrier. This type of cover doesn’t interfere with the harness at all and is easily opened or removed if the child starts to get too warm.
• Blanket and hat if needed. After securing your child’s seatbelt, just tuck a blanket around him or her. Never fit a seat belt over the blanket. Children can also wear a hat and or gloves to help keep warm.