Are bulky clothes risking your child's life? How to stay safe in a car seat this winter

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"Bulky jackets create the illusion that your child is safely buckled into their car seat when the opposite is true." Photo: Getty Images
"Bulky jackets create the illusion that your child is safely buckled into their car seat when the opposite is true." Photo: Getty Images

The National Road Traffic Act stipulates that children under the age of three must be in a car seat and that children between the ages of three and 14, or 1.5 meters tall, must be in a car seat if one is available, but the Automobile Association (AAA) reports that one-third of children are still travelling without one.

This is despite studies showing that if a child safety seat is correctly installed and used by children aged 0 to four years, it can reduce the need for hospitalisation by 69% after a road accident.

However, there is more to car seat safety than just ensuring your child is strapped into their seat...

Did you know that when you put your child in a car seat wearing a bulky winter jacket, there are potentially dire consequences? As the weather cools down now, parents are heading out to school and activities with their children warmly wrapped up in winter jackets, but there is a link between car seats, winter jackets and their children's safety. 

Read: One third of children are still travelling completely unrestrained in cars

The illusion of safety

Bulky jackets create the illusion that your child is safely buckled into their car seat when the opposite is true, says Seugnette van Wyngaard, Head of 1st for Women Insurance.

"If you tighten your child's harness around a thick jacket, that jacket will compress during an accident, making the harness loose and increasing the risk of injury," she explains.

"The problem with a thick jacket is that the harness may appear to be tight on the child when there's too much space created by the soft fabric between the jacket and the child." Avoid this by ensuring your child is only dressed in clothes that they would wear inside your house.

Their harness should be securely fastened and as snug as possible, while parents of children in booster seats should also do everything they can to avoid extra slack in the harness. 

Wyngaard also notes "When choosing a seat, it's important to get one that matches your child's weight. If a child is restrained in the wrong system for their age or weight, or the straps or harnesses are not adequately secured or entirely left undone, it will put the child at an increased risk of fatal and non-fatal injuries."  

Another incorrect belief held by many parents is that it is safe to hold their baby in their arms or keep their child on their lap in the car, but this is not true.

Research has shown that passengers have less than half a second to react to a collision or sudden stop, and it's unlikely an adult can hold onto a child during this time.

Follow these tips for increased car seat safety:

1. Check your child's clothing before buckling up, and make sure they're wearing no more than they would be indoors.

2. Ensure that your child is snug in their car seat – comfortable but without too much room for their bodies to move from side to side or front to back.

3. Use the pinch test to make sure that your child's harness is fastened properly.

Step 1: Keep the oversized winter jacket on and harness your child in their car seat. Tighten your harness as you usually would for travel.

Step 2: Unbuckle the harness, and without loosening it, take your child out of the car seat.

Step 3: Remove their jacket and place them back in the car seat – buckling the harness once more. It needs to be checked for tightness.

When buckled, you should not be able to pinch the webbing at the shoulder. When the harness is snug, your fingers should slide off the saddle as you try to squeeze it together. You will need to tighten the harness even more to get it snug enough to fit your child correctly.

Also read: Top tips to keep children safe at school and at home

4. Instead, use their jacket as a blanket. This is done by turning the jacket around and putting it on backwards with their arms through the armholes.

5. Don't place anything underneath your child in the car seat or between your child and the harness.

6. Check that the straps aren't twisted, as this could reduce the effectiveness of the harness in a crash.

7. If you are buying a second-hand car seat, only do so if you know its history or if it's from a good source. Don't buy or use a seat involved in an accident or has worn straps, buckles or attachment points.

8. Set a good example as a parent and always buckle up too.


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