As winter approaches, parents and caregivers will start to bundle small children in bulky coats and other winter garments prior to placing them into car seats. Many are unaware, however, that doing so presents a significant risk. Safety experts agree that as a general rule, such garments should never be worn underneath car seat straps and harnesses, which can result in the safety harness being too loose to be effective in a crash. Some car seat manuals even state that winter coats should not be worn while using their products, though such cautions often do not provide the consequences, and also can be rendered ineffective when buried within many pages of information, instructions and warnings.
A mock crash staged by the Transport Research Laboratory for The Observer demonstrates that as the car seat swings backwards and then forwards under crash conditions, a child can be thrown out of his harness into the front seat, as a result of the child being strapped into a badly fitted car seat. The research states: “[T]he slackness of the harness would have prevented the seat spreading the force of the crash over the child’s body and reducing injury…too much slack in the harness means that the child will be caught later in the crash, because the harness doesn’t have time to absorb the energy.” Essentially, the force of a crash will cause the thickness of the coat to flatten, ensuring that the child will move within the harness and increasing the chance for injury. The combination of these two things means that suddenly a large gap exists for the shoulders and arms to come free of the harness.
Tips for Parents:
Parents might have a hard time balancing the importance of the coat test rule with an understandable need to keep their kids warm on chilly days. In Education.com’s article, Coats and Car Seats: A Lethal Combination?, author Keren Perles provides a few tips from Kelly Klasek, a lead instructor of community education at St. Louis Children’s Hospital: (1) Try a poncho that goes over the straps in the front and over the car seat in the back. Car seat ponchos are also available online; or (2) after buckling in your child, put your child’s arms through the sleeves and let the child wear the coat backwards. Also, use car seat covers for infant seats that only have material over the harness, rather than those that go under the baby.
Using Car seats is of course critically important to provide the best protection for babies and small children in the event of a crash. However, it is equally important to ensure that the main safety feature of the car seat is not compromised. If you have questions or concerns about car seat safety, feel free to contact the product safety attorneys at Swartz & Swartz, P.C.