Warning: The dangerous car seat mistake many parents make in winter

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December 13, 2016
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December 13, 2016

Warning: The dangerous car seat mistake many parents make in winter

Look at just how much difference one jacket can make to the safety of your precious cargo when travelling in the car this winter.

While seeing our kids rugged up in their winter woolies certainly ups the cuties factor, did you know that you are supposed to remove your child’s coats and jackets before you strap them into their car seat, and not doing so may put them in danger?

The difference a jacket can make

Ideally, you don’t want your child to be wearing anything thicker than they would normally wear while indoors, or in summer – a t-shirt or light jumper is the most they should have on.

Paediatrician and child-safety expert, Dr. Benjamin Hoffman, from the Children’s Hospital in Portland, Oregon, explains, “Car seats are designed to be tightly attached to the vehicle and the child attached tightly to the car seat, anything that interferes with that increases injury.”

It is very important that the harness is tight enough that you can’t pinch the webbing between your thumb and forefinger. Any extra slack in the harness can be very dangerous; it can lead to too much excursion or even ejection during a crash.

“Anything between the child and the straps is compressible; it’s like having space, which creates more risk that the child could thrust forward into the straps in the event of a crash,” explains Dr. Benjamin Hoffman.

Think clothes couldn’t make that much difference? The video below demonstrates just how much extra slack one jacket can make:

It’s simple physics. If a car is travelling at a certain speed, everything and everyone in the vehicle is travelling at that same speed. If the car stops suddenly, the people in the car continue to travel at that speed.

“The best thing we can do is attach the body as tightly as we can to the vehicle itself.” says says Dr. Hoffman.

How to tell if a jumper or jacket is too thick

Consumer Reports in the UK shares how you can do a simple test at home:

  • Put the coat on your child, sit them in the child seat and fasten the harness.
  • Tighten the harness until you can no longer pinch any of the harness webbing with your thumb and forefinger
  • Without loosening the harness, remove your child from the child seat
  • Take the coat off, put your child back in the child seat and buckle the harness straps, which are still adjusted as they were when he was wearing the coat
  • If you can now pinch the webbing between your thumb and forefinger, then the coat is too bulky to be worn under the harness

Once your child is secured in their seat without their winter coats, you can check that the harness is secured tightly by conducting a fairly straightforward pinch test. With your thumb and your index finger, pinch the harness near the child’s collar bone. If you are unable to pinch any excess webbing when you pinch the strap, the harness is considered snug enough.

Tizzie Hall, the best-selling author of Save our Sleep, recently came under fire for advocating potentially unsafe car restraint practices, by suggesting that it was safe practise to use a baby wrap when you are placing an infant in a carseat. It isn’t safe at all. The Australian safety standards state that both arms and legs should always be sticking out of the harness straps, which therefore makes swaddling unsafe.

Safe ways to keep warm in the car during winter

“If it’s an older child, take their jacket and put their arms through it backwards over the harness. If the child is younger, tuck a blanket around the straps. There are some items that aren’t manufactured by the car seats to keep a child warm, but we don’t recommend using anything that alters the way a child interacts with a car seat. The bottom line is that nothing should come between a child and the car seat straps.” says Dr. Hoffman.

Research has show over and over again that too many of parents are getting car seat safety wrong.

Kidsafe Australia recommends the following as the ‘Ten Essential Steps’ in car seat safety:

  1.  The Use of any restraint is preferable to not using a restraint. It is the law that each person in a motor vehicle has their own restraint.
  2. Infants are safest if they remain in their rear facing restraint as long as they still fit in their rear facing restraint. While the law allows children over 6 months to use either a rear facing restraint or a forward facing restraint, the rear facing restraint offers better protection as long as the child fits in it.
  3. Once a child is too tall for their rear facing child restraint, they should use a forward-facing child restraint (with built-in 6 point harness) until they are too tall for it. While the law allows children 4 years and older to use either a forward-facing child restraint or a booster seat, the forward-facing child restraint offers better protection as long as the child fits in it.
  4. Once a child is too tall for a forward facing child restraint, they should use a booster seat with a lap-sash seat belt until they are tall enough to fit properly into an adult seat belt. While the law allows children 7 years and older to use either a booster seat or a seat belt by itself, a booster seat offers better protection as long as the child fits in it.
  5. For a child in a booster seat or an adult seatbelt, use a seating position with a lap-sash (lap and shoulder) belt in preference to one with a lap-only belt.
  6. All child restraints and booster seats must be installed correctly and the child strapped in correctly, according to the manufacturer’s instructions:
    a) Always use a top tether strap for all rearward facing child restraints, forward facing child restraints and booster seats that have them.
    b) Always thread the seatbelt through the correct path (following the colour coding available for newer restraints).
    c) Ensure there is no slack or looseness in any part of the system. Check the harness straps around the child, the top tether, the seatbelt anchoring the restraint to the vehicle, and the seatbelt used by a child in a booster seat.
    d) Check that the seat belt is buckled before each trip.
  7. Children 12 years of age and under are safest in the rear seat.
  8. Seat belts should never be used with the sash belt under the child’s arm or behind the child’s back, whether they are being used alone or with a booster seat.
  9. When planning any journey with children, use a motor vehicle which allows each child to be in the appropriate restraint for their size.
  10. Regularly check that child restraints are correctly installed and that the restraint is adjusted properly for the child’s size according to the restraint users’ manual. Using a restraint fitting service will help ensure that everything is used correctly and that your child is as safe as possible.

If you’re confused about recommendations and laws, you can find more information HERE.

Another warning: cushion style booster seats are not safe

Britax in the UK has launched a campaign called ‘Bin The Booster’, which urges parents to get rid of any booster cushion seats they might have and opt for highback booster seats with head and side impact protection.

Parents who opt for the booster style cushions to help lift their child and ensure the vehicle seat belt sits correctly, could be placing their child at significantly more risk. Britax found that approximately half (49 percent) of seat belts used to secure child seats may be fitted incorrectly. They are often twisted, too high, or fitted around the seat and not the child. In addition, these booster cushions offer no head or side impact protection for children travelling in cars.

To get the full attention of parents, and highlight just how dangerous the booster cushion style chairs are, Britax has released some alarming footage filmed at their crash test centre, capturing the safety performance of a booster cushion vs a highback booster seat in the event of a frontal collision.

You can watch that powerful crash-test video below:


  • Using a restraint correctly greatly increases your child’s safety during a crash.
  • Placing your child in a restraint that is designed for a larger/older child increases the risk of serious injury in a crash.
  • It is illegal in some states to use a child restraint in the front passenger seat of a vehicle if a passenger airbag is fitted.
  • Ensure the restraint is installed correctly. See a restraint fitter if in any doubt.
  • Always use the top tether strap where required.
  • Teach by example and always wear your seatbelt.
  • When using a seat belt with a booster, ensure the seat belt is correctly fitted over the child’s shoulder.
  • Move your child into a forward-facing restraint only when they no longer fit into a rearward-facing restraint.
  • Move your child into a booster seat only when they no longer fit into a forward-facing restraint.
  • Always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions.

FROM: http://www.kidspot.com.au/

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