Car Seats and Car Coats....

If there ever was a place to dot your I’s and cross your T’s, your child’s car seat is certainly the place – it could literally save your child’s life. For most of you out there, bundling up your kids, getting them into the car, and heading to your destination is a big chore in the winter. So I am here with some surprising new information about car seats, and car coats.


First, it's important to know that, in addition to being a pediatrician, I am also a Certified Car Passenger Safety Technician. I took a rigorous 40 hour course learning about the physics of crashes, the intricacies of automobiles and how they are set up to accept car seats, the current laws and recommendations for passenger safety, and of course, car seat installation.

What I want to inform you all about is some surprising information about kids wearing bulky clothing while strapped in a car seat.


But first, here's a little primer on proper use and fit of car seats.  

ALL children under the age of 12 should ride in the back seat of the car to be safest, and ride in a seat with a 5 point harness until 50-80 pounds, and then switch to a belt-positioning booster based on the weight/height recommendation of each individual seat. The harness straps should have no gaps, so attempts to pinch them at the shoulder reveals no slack. The straps should emerge from the seat AT OR ABOVE the child’s shoulders and the chest clip/anchor should be at the level of the child’s armpits. 

For maximum protection in a crash, you want the harness or seat belt as close to the child as possible. The more layers between a child and the harness, the harder it is to actually fit the restraint to the child. You end up fitting the restraints to the coat, and in the event of a crash, all that extra air is forced out between the layers and leaves the harness too loose to protect the child. The clip we will roll on the show (see link at bottom of article) shows a crash test dummy with a puffy winter coat correctly strapped into its car seat. AT 30 MPH the jacket compresses and the “child” is ejected from the seat.

 In studies at the University of Michigan, there was as much as 4 inches of slack present when coats were removed. This practice not only puts kids at risk, but also older children in boosters, and adolescents and adults in seatbelts.

4 inches is easily the difference between your child’s head hitting the back of the seat in front of them – something that is definitely known to cause serious head injuries to real kids in real crashes. And the head would impact lower on the front seat in an area that isn’t required to have extra padding.

So what can we recommend when's subzero outside and cold in the car?

First, put your child in normal clothes and a winter coat to get to the car. Once in the car here are a few options: 

  • First take off the coat, and then reapply it backwards so chest and arms are covered. When the car warms up your child can easily shed the coat and be comfortable
  • Put a blanket on your child (warm one quickly in the dryer, fold it tightly, and apply to your child after strapped in the seat with coat off)
  • If you have a large poncho, but it over your child’s head, and let the back half lay over the top of the seat
  • For smaller babies and tots, several car seat companies sell zip up “boots” designed especially for this purpose.
  • For infants, bringing a heavier swaddle blanket to the car, securing your baby in the seat, and then tucking in the swaddle once in the seat, along with a warm beanie, can keep baby nice and toasty.
  • Or use a thin fleece one-piece outfit like Carter’s or Columbia fleece – make sure the fit is good so there isn’t excessive bulk.
  • For older kids, open the coat, apply the seatbelt, then zip the coat up – so there is close contact of the belt with his chest and shoulder

It's hazardous enough driving in winter, so we want everyone inside the car to be as safe, and comfortable as possible!



For more information please go to: and for a video link to this segment go to: