January 18, 2024

Most winter coats are full of air and give the false impression your child is snugly strapped in the car seat.

With Middle Tennessee temperatures plummeting, it’s a good time to remember that children should never wear their coats while strapped into their car seats.

Winter coats give the false perception that the harness straps are tight against your child’s body when, in fact, they are several inches too loose. This common car seat mistake is a serious child safety hazard. The car-seat straps should always fit snugly against your child’s chest and hips. In a crash, the coat can compress and produce a loose harness, which can result in the child’s whole body coming out of the car seat, causing severe injuries or even death.

Don’t believe this is possible? Try this simple test:

  • Place your child in the car seat with a winter coat on and tighten the harness straps as you normally would for travel.
  • Next, undo the car-seat buckle WITHOUT loosening the harness straps.
  • Now take the coat off your child, put him or her back in the seat and buckle the harness.
  • Use the pinch test to check the harness for tightness: Try pinching the harness fabric together near the child’s shoulders. When the harness is snug, your fingers should just slide off the harness as you try to pinch it together. If you can pinch a bit of harness between your fingers, the straps are too loose. Chances are you will need to tighten your harness to get it as snug as it needs to be to properly fit your child.

When properly harnessed, the plastic retainer or chest clip should be across the child’s chest at armpit level. Use the pinch test to check for tightness.

How to avoid the dangers of coats in car seats

So how do you keep your children warm? Take them to the car with a blanket or coat around them. Once you get to the car, take the blanket or coat off and secure the child in the car seat. You can then place the blanket over the child’s body as long as it is not covering the face and/or obstructing breathing. Coats can be worn backward with arms through the sleeves after children are buckled into their seats.

Other cold-weather safety notes: Remember never to leave your car running in the garage, never leave your car running with your child inside it, and never place anything underneath your child in a car seat or between your child and the harness. This includes winter coats!

It can be challenging to get everyone situated in the car, particularly when it is cold. It might take an extra minute or two to ensure your child is safely strapped in and cozy, but that precious cargo is worth the effort.

car seat guidelines for kids

Stay Seat Smart

For more child passenger safety tips and to learn more about car seat fitting stations near you, visit the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt safety website.

Learn More