By Brittany Carlson
It’s a freezing winter day and you’ve got to take your kids on a car trip. You’ve bundled them in their winter gear and the car is freezing. Do you
- Buckle them in with their winter coats on?
- Take off the coats, buckle them in and then put coats back on?
If you’re a mom with at least one cold winter under your belt, then you’ve likely experienced this scenario. And you likely know the safest answer is B — but taking coats off and on to get in the car can be a lot of extra work! However, that extra effort could save your child’s life, or keep them from getting injured in the event of a crash.
The facts relating children’s injuries in car crashes to car seat use are sobering.
According to osfhealthcare.org, 3 out of 4 car seats are not installed or used correctly, which plays a major role in the fact that “motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of injury to children under 14 years old.” Further, 17 percent of vehicle crashes happen in winter weather, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Make sure your kids are as safe as possible this winter by making sure their car seats are used correctly, and by preparing yourself your vehicle for winter driving.
Winter car seat safety
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents remove bulky coats, clothes, or snowsuits before buckling children into a car seat, according to healthychildren.org. This is because the extra padding prevents the car seat harness from being snug against child’s body, which puts children at risk for being thrown out of the car seat during a crash. A rule of thumb for making sure car seat straps are tightened enough is the “pinch test”: according to healthychildren.org, “if you can pinch the straps of the car seat harness, then it needs to be tightened to fit snugly against your child’s chest.”
Ginger Streitmatter of the Children’s Hospital of Illinois recommends that children are strapped in so that the chest clip is at the level of their armpits (osfhealthcare.org). Further, parents should install a car seat so that it doesn’t move more than an inch in any direction, Streitmatter said (osfhealthcare.org).
Here are a few more tips from American Academy of Pediatrics for keeping kids warm and safe in car seats during the winter months:
- Keep removable infant car seats in the house when not in use, so they aren’t freezing when you put the child in.
- Allow extra time to for yourself when traveling in winter, both to assemble all of your children’s winter gear and to drive in potentially hazardous conditions.
- Allow extra time for winter driving and getting everything in the car;
- Dress children in thin layers such as long-sleeved bodysuits, leggings and fleeces; use hats, mittens, socks and booties to help keep them warm
- Put a coat or blanket over the car seat straps (but not any products that aren’t approved by the car seat manufacturer, such as sleeping bag or stroller inserts).
Safe winter driving
The key to safe driving anytime is preparation, but especially in winter weather. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommend that drivers plan their route ahead of time and let others know of estimated arrival time. OSHA and the NHTSA also advise drivers to practice cold weather driving ahead of time, such as steering into a skid and braking in a skid (stomp on antilock brakes, but pump non-antilock brakes). In icy weather, drivers should drive slowly, increase the distance between cars, and allow extra time for driving, according to the NHTSA.
Drivers also need to prepare their vehicles for winter, to help them withstand freezing temperatures. The NHTSA advises drivers to get a tune-up before winter weather strikes, focusing on the battery, wipers, coolant, and tires.
Another vital way to prepare for winter driving is to stock your car with an emergency kit, in case of accidents, stalls, or getting stranded during a storm. Here’s what to pack in your emergency kit, according to the NHTSA, OSHA and healthychildren.org:
-extra sets of clothes for children (in case they get wet)
-extra hats and gloves
-non-perishable snacks and water
-flares or emergency lights
-an abrasive material (i.e. kitty litter) to help with traction
-snow brush and ice scraper
If drivers do get stopped or stall on the road, OSHA recommends staying in the car putting bright markers on the antenna or windows, clearing the exhaust pipe, and running the car just enough to keep warm.
They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In this instance, taking the time to prepare for winter driving, and making sure kids are buckled in correctly, will help ensure that your family stays safe, wherever your travels take you this winter.
Brittany Carlson is a lifelong lover of words and all things chocolate. She is an Army wife and now has two sons, Adam (3) and James (7 months). She has written for several Army community newspapers, including the Stuttgart Citizen (Germany), Fort Leonard Wood Guidon (Missouri) and Fort Belvoir Eagle (Virginia). Brittany holds a Master of Arts in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She and her family live in upstate NY.
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