Car Seat Safety and Winter Wear

How to keep your little ones both safe and warm in the car this season

With our Canadian winter here for the next few months, there are a few things that are important to remember about keeping our children safe and warm while in their car seats.

We spoke with Katherine Hutka, President of the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada (CPSAC) for tips on how to ensure our children are being put into their car seats safely while still being able to keep them warm on those cold Canadian winter days.

Katherine began her journey with CPSAC 8 years ago as a new parent who was seeking information to keep her own child safe, but she didn’t stop there. She wanted to make sure that all parents and caregivers had access to the best information to keep their children safe, first in her own community, then in her region and now across the country. She is very passionate about supporting technicians in the work that they do across Canada.

The biggest piece that is becoming more well known lately with the help of social media is appropriate wear in car seats during the winter months. Katherine had this to say about it:

“For the best protection in a car seat, the harness must be snug on the child’s body. In the force of a crash, extra padding and fluff can compress and the straps may become suddenly loose. Bulky coats can also change where the harness is placed on the child’s body. For an older child in a booster seat, the seat belt should fit across the strongest bones. The lap belt should fit low across the pelvis with the shoulder belt snug across the chest. With a bulky coat or snowsuit under the belt, the lap belt slides up onto the child’s soft abdomen, putting them at risk.”

A concern for parents through the winter months is, if puffy warm coats and snowsuits are not recommended, how are they to keep their child warm? Katherine and the CPSAC recommend dressing the baby or child in layers to keep them warm and safe. Fleece is a good top layer to trap heat without adding padding under the harness or seat belt. Wear hats, mitts and boots with a fleece layer in the car seat or booster seat and wrap children in blankets after they are safely buckled in the car.

When it is very cold, children can wear their puffy coats over top of these layers on the way to the car. After they are safely buckled, they can wear their coat backwards over their arms to stay warm, and have a blanket ready to cover them. Once the car heats up, they can kick the blankets and coats off so that they don’t overheat. Parents can remove the blankets for younger babies, who are most at risk for overheating.

Although there are a lot of aftermarket products that you can purchase for the car seat to help your little ones stay warm, they are not safe, as they interfere with the straps against the child’s body. Layering and using blankets after they are securely buckled is the only way to ensure their safety. However, for infants who are still in bucket-style seats, adding a shower-cap-type cover that fits over top of the car seat is okay.

We asked Katherine why the recommendations have changed so much in the last few years. Her response was quite interesting, as there are many people who are still unaware or aren’t fully accepting of the recommendations:

 “The recommendation was always there, but I think that parents and caregivers are more aware of the issue now. Parents are more connected to each other and to safety information through social media and they can see and share ideas on keeping their children warm AND safe in the car.”

Although it sounds like more work and it does take some time to adjust to taking their jackets off when getting into the vehicle only having to put them back on when you arrive at your destination, it’s worth the effort for your child to be safe in the car.

So when dressing your little ones during the winter months, please remember these important tips:

  • Kids can wear coats or jackets in the car – just not bulky or puffy ones.
  • Dress your child in layers that don’t compress or add too much bulk.
  • When it’s really cold, kids can wear their puffy coats over top of these layers on the way to the car. After they are safely buckled, they can wear their coat backwards over their arms to stay warm.
  • Once the car heats up, kids can kick off blankets and coats so that they don’t overheat. Parents can pull over to remove the blankets for younger babies who are most at risk of overheating in the car.

The bottom line is that parents and caregivers want to keep their kids both warm and safe in the car this winter. By placing warm, snug layers under the straps and warm blankets or covers over the straps, parents can do just that.  

The mission of the CPSAC is to provide Canadians with the skills and knowledge to safely transport their children through their national Child Passenger Safety Technician training program. CPSAC has grown to over 1,000 members across Canada. Technicians and Instructors are reaching parents, caregivers, health care providers, law enforcement and others through various channels of education and outreach.

Visit the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada to find a trained car seat technician in your area.

Transport Canada has complied a list of clinics and other groups across Canada.

To find the most up-to-date information on how to keep your child safe, Katherine recommends Child Safety Link and Vancouver Island Car Seat Techs, in addition to the CPSAC and Transport Canada.