Now that the weather is colder, many families will be swapping their spring/summer strolls in the park for trips in the car, wrapping their children up warm in their winter coats and scarves, leading to lots of people asking, “just how safe it is to strap children into car seats while they are wearing their winter coats?”
The answer is that clothing can affect how snugly the seat’s harness fits the child, so it’s important to check it is snug on every journey. If your child is wearing a thick jacket or body suit the harness will not be close enough to his/her body, which means it will be too loose. In a collision, this would allow the child’s body to move too much before the harness starts to restrain the child, which reduces the safety of the seat considerably. We do not recommend that thick jackets or bodysuits are worn. If a child was wearing a thick coat on a previous journey, and is wearing something less bulky on the next journey, it is doubly important to check the harness fits snugly. So, if more than two fingers can fit between the child’s chest and the harness, it is too loose.
When it comes to newborn babies, however, car travel should be kept to a minimum. New research by Swindon’s Great Western Hospital warns that infants under four weeks shouldn’t travel in car seats for more than 30 minutes. Some babies may be susceptible to breathing problems if they stay in a baby seat for longer than this. When you do need to take a baby in a car, always use an approved rearward-facing baby seat that is properly fitted, but avoid taking very young babies, especially premature and low-birth weight babies, on long journeys.
Parents should ask the hospital to assess whether it is safe for their baby to travel in a baby seat before they are discharged. It is not advisable to leave a child sleeping in a car seat at home.
For more information about child car seats, including details of the law, visit www.childcarseats.org.uk.
Kevin Clinton, head of road safety, RoSPA 11 November 2016