While it hasn't been terribly cold this winter (so far), my girls have gotten some use out of their puffy winter coats. With our chilly winter mornings, I've been putting them in their car seats with their coats, which led to me slightly loosen up their straps a little bit to make them more comfortable.

Then I saw this last week. A reminder from Consumer Reports that a bulky coat and a car seat is a dangerous combination. A big coat under a child seat harness can result in the harness being too loose to be effective in a crash. The extra slack can lead to too much excursion or even ejection during a crash.

Benjamin Hoffman, medical director of the Tom Sargent Safety Center at Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland, Oregon said in this Today.com article that when teaching technicians how to safely install car seats, they use a fairly straightforward trick. With your thumb and your index finger, pinch the harness near the child's collar bone. If you are unable to pinch any excess webbing when you pinch the strap, the harness is considered snug enough. This is called the pinch test and it is one of the top five things to keep in mind when you do a car seat checkup, according to Safe Kids Worldwide.

Consumer Reports offers this simple way to check if your child's coat is too big and bulky to wear under their harness:

  • Put the coat on your child, sit them in the child seat and fasten the harness. Tighten the harness until you can no longer pinch any of the harness webbing with your thumb and forefinger.
  • Without loosening the harness, remove your child from the child seat.
  • Take the coat off, and put your child back in the child seat and buckle the harness straps, which are still adjusted as they were when he was wearing the coat.
  • If you can now pinch the webbing between your thumb and forefinger, then the coat is too bulky to be worn under the harness.

So what should you do if your child can't safely wear a coat under the harness? Consumer Reports offers these tips to keep your child safe and warm in his/her child seat:

  • After securing your child in his/her child seat, turn the coat around and put it on backward with their arms through the arm holes and the back of the coat acting like a blanket
  • Lay a blanket over your child to keep him/her warm. (Also, you can buy a car seat cover.)

Although this extra step may seem like a hassle in the morning, it can make a serious impact.

"I can see why this approach could be considered difficult," said Hoffman in the Today.com article. "But remember, most crashes occur within 6 miles of home at relatively slow speed. But even at 30 mph, the force on a 10-pound infant is more than a 10-pound bowling ball falling from a 3 story window. Take the time -- I've seen what can happen in the event of a crash."

After reading these articles, I've been able to tighten up my car straps like they were before with their coats.  But make sure to take off their coats if you can't make it work!

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