Car Laws & Safety

Why Not To Use Winter Coats In Car Seats?

Many Parents asked why they should not use winter coats in a car seat? Dr. Leah Alexander did extensive research to answer this important question to our dear readers.

Winter is approaching, which means it is time to dress warmly for outdoor activities. As you prepare for this weather, you layer on the heavier onesies, sweaters, coats, and hats. Then, putting your child into the car seat requires you to remove a layer.

You look at your little one, very warm and cozy, and think, “Do I really need to take the coat off? “Is this really necessary?” In reality, it is. Read further and you will understand why it is much safer to take the coat off.

Why Are Heavy Coats Unsafe? 

Bulky Winter Coats and Car SeatsThe primary issue of bulky coats and clothing is that they prevent car seat harnesses from properly securing your infant or child.

These straps remain unexpectedly loose because of the coat. According to the AAP:

“In a car crash, fluffy padding immediately flattens out from the force, leaving extra space in the harness. A child can slip through the straps and be thrown from the seat.” 

When in a car seat, straps and clips should lie flat against the chest. The chest clip should be at the armpit level (source). Straps should be tight but comfortable for your child. 

The AAP Recommendations 

The American Academy of Pediatrics, however, provides more specific age and height recommendations for car seat use: 

  • Birth to Age 4 Rear-facing, infant car seat (under 35lbs) 
  • Age 4 to seat weight Forward-facing convertible or harness car seat limit (35-60lbs) 
  • Ages 8-12 Booster seat Height under 4’9” 
  • Ages 13 and up Seatbelt only Height at least 4’9 

Take a look at this link for their helpful charts and diagrams 

How To Choose & Proper Installation 

They also provide information on how to choose and properly install a car seat:

It is important to note that all infants and toddlers should be kept rear-facing
at least until the age of 2.

Crash test studies reveal an increased risk of spinal cord injuries among this age group during accidents when in a forward-facing car seat.

In November 2018, the AAP updated their policy to state “rear-facing until the age of 4” if possible:

Because laws may vary in your state, it is best to consult your local authorities to determine when to transition your child to the next stage of car seat.

Carseat Safety & Laws 

First, let’s discuss a bit about car seats. Carseats for infants and children have come a long way since laws were passed requiring their use in 1985.

Recommendations on which type of seat to use varies by age, weight, and height.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Committee offers some basic recommendations:

  • Infants Rear-facing, infant car seat 
  • Toddlers Forward-facing car seat with a harness and tether 
  • Grade School Children Booster seat 
  • Older Children Seatbelt only 

How do I Know Which Coats Are Safe? 

It may be obvious that bulky down coats and snowsuits will not fit well in a carseat.

You may be wondering, however, if a fleece onesie or lighter jacket would be ok.

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Last update on 2021-10-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Consumer Reports developed a “Puffy Coat Check” to help parents determine if their child is safe. They recommend:

Step 1

Put the coat on your child, sit him or her in the car seat, and fasten the harness. Tighten the harness until you can no longer pinch any of the webbing with your thumb and forefinger.

Step 2
Without loosening the harness at all, unhook it, and remove your child from the car seat.

Take the coat off, put your child back in the car seat, and buckle the harness straps, which should be adjusted just as they were when the child was wearing the coat.

Step 3
If you can pinch the webbing between your thumb and forefinger now, then the coat is too bulky to be worn under the harness. 

You may want to try this test before assuming that a lighter coat is safe enough. Take a look at this consumer Reports video 

In general, however, Consumer Reports agrees with the medical authorities: removing the coat is safer. 

It’s Cold Outside! Now What? 

You may have noticed a variety of products on the market with claims stating they are a “safe winter coat” option for car seats. Once such option is Buckle Me Coats.

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  • WORRY FREE: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children should have their coat removed...
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  • WORRY FREE: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children should have their coat removed...
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Last update on 2021-10-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

I have not, however, found a single product that has been endorsed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Both government and medical authorities agree that bulky coats and car seats are a bad combination.

Instead, the consensus is to use a blanket or the heavy winter coat draped over the car seat once your infant is secured inside.

Adding a hat and mittens provides additional warmth. Blankets should NOT be wrapped around the baby or tucked under the harness in any way [Mayo Clinic]

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Last update on 2021-10-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The AAP offers additional tips for keeping your little one warm AND safe (Source)

Blanket In The Best Solution 

So, as you prepare for enjoying fun winter activities, remember car seat safety. Skip the heavy coat, and bring a blanket to drape over him or her instead.

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Last update on 2021-10-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Leah Alexander, M.D is a graduate of Kalamazoo College and Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, and is board certified in General Pediatrics. She completed her Pediatric residency at Overlook and Morristown Memorial Hospitals of New Jersey.

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