While warm, puffy jackets can serve as an extra layer of protection from cold weather, they can also pose a threat to children when worn underneath a seat belt. 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. Given that car crashes are the number one killer of children up to age 13, AAA East Central advises parents to limit the layers of padding or clothing between a child and their harnesses and belts.
"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," says Lori Cook, safety advisor for AAA East Central. "Parents should buckle their kids in car seats without jackets first, and then cover them with something like a blanket."
When a seat belt is fitted over a puffy jacket, the jacket can compress in a crash and create 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.
AAA East Central offers tips 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.
Keep the seat inside. Keeping the car seat inside the house will keep it warm, thereby avoiding making the child cold when they are strapped in.
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.
Use a backward 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 or wrap them with a blanket. This method keeps the harness snug to the child and allows the child freedom to remove their coat if they get too warm.
Blanket and hat if needed. After securing your child’s seat belt, 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.
AAA East Central is a not-for-profit association with 80 local offices in Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia serving 2.7 million members. News releases are available at news.eastcentral.aaa.com. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.