Bulky Jackets in a car seat: One of the many things you shouldn't be doing with car seat safety in the winter
Bulky Jackets in a car seat: One of the things you shouldn’t be doing with car seat safety in the winter

Brrr! It’s getting cold outside! Even the usually warm West Coast has been hit with a couple snow days already this year and we’re not even “officially” into the Winter months yet. With the drop in temperatures comes the inevitable: Snowy and icy roads. When it’s too cold for the existing snow to thaw and more comes, it can create some terrible conditions for driving. Even with a good set of snow tires and a safe ride, you can’t help but slip and slide occasionally. Then there are the others out there that don’t have snow tires or a safe ride but think they can make it where they need to. I saw a lot of those people up against trees and at the edge of ditches those first couple snow days in Vancouver.

This blog has nothing to do with on-the-road safety. I’m sure you’re probably tired of hearing and reading about ways to stay safe on the roads this winter. Rather, I wanted to offer up some tips for child passenger safety in the winter. It’s important that your child stays safe but you also keep them safe in doing so. There are a few avoidable traps that many parents end up falling into every winter and can do more harm than help, even when that’s never the intent. Here are a few tips on keeping your little one safe while on the roads this winter.

Stay warm but not in bunches of layers

charlotteseatedThe most common trap parents get into with winter trips is bundling your child in multiple layers (including winter jackets) prior to strapping them into the seat. After all, what parent doesn’t want their child to stay warm on a cold winter’s day? The trouble with doing this is that you’re actually hindering your car seat’s ability to protect your child. By adding fluffy layers between the chest harness and your child, it’s actually creating two problems. First, the harness itself isn’t in ample position to help brace for impacts or knee-jerk reactions on the road. If you look at the example on the left, it was an example picture of I took of my daughter last winter with a puffy winter coat on and the car seat harness done up. As you can see, there is a lot of distance and fluff now between the safety of the harness and her. That’s the main reason to avoid this.

Second, the whole setup might make your child uncomfortable since all of their clothing is now pressed up against them. It might not make a difference to their breathing but will definitely limit their mobility if they like to cuddle a stuffed animal or something like that while on the road. While most child passenger safety blogs recommend no toys with your child in the car, I also get that sometimes a cuddly teddy bear or toy might be the difference between serenity and an early screening of the latest disaster movie in your backseat.

What I’d recommend here to combat the cold is actually keep something that you can warn your child up with once you’ve properly seated them. For younger babies, you may want to look into a winterized car seat cover. It retains the warmth while negating the possibility of airway choking hazards caused blankets, especially when they’re grabby enough to start touching and playing with everything. The one thing that you’ve got to be really careful about before committing though is whether your seat cover is road tested and recommended for use in the car. Bunting bags, for example, are really sketchy choices because of the zip up flap systems they have. However, there are some covers that have been tested and safe for the road. It’s really just a “look before you leap” sort of recommendation on my part.

Toddlers can just be handed and seated with a blanket as long as you can trust that they won’t be putting them in their mouths or obstructing airways themselves.

If you continue to be worried about how cold your child gets, carry an extra blanket or two with you. It’s easier to cool down in a hot car seat than it is to warm up in a cold seat.


Get your car seat install checked out

You know how you always take your car in to get winterized before the cold hits? You should consider doing the same thing with your car seat. If you’ve taken the seat in and out of the car multiple times throughout the year or if it’s just been a long time since you installed, consider taking it to your local installers (whether it be fire departments or police stations) to have a look to see if everything is still in tune for the winter. It won’t take a certified installer more than a few minutes to check and make adjustments if need be. If your connections have loosened or you’re ready for the next phase up in your seat, they can give you a hand with that too.

carseatinstall2It goes without saying that you should also make sure that you’ve made the right shoulder adjustments and that your child is sitting in a proper sized seat as well. Be sure that if your child is still under the age of 1, they are still rear facing in the appropriate spot in your back seat. If they are over the age of 1, you can front face though it’s recommended that you keep them rear facing for as long as possible, My daughter is almost 3 and she still rear faces in our SUV since the car seat is positioned high enough in correlation to the vehicle’s middle seat to let her do it without making her uncomfortable.

If you think you need the next sized seat up or want to see your options out there, BestBuy.ca has a massive selection of car seats from infant all the way to booster.

Get rid of all flying hazards

This is technically more of a year-round recommendation, but more than ever in the Winter, you should be clear of all flying hazards in your vehicle. Lock down that vehicle scraper and lock de-icer. Be really careful with what you’re bringing into the car in general, especially in a position where it can fly into your child’s face in the event of a hard braking or worse. If you can lock it in the trunk, do it. If you can buy a cover or shade for the back of an open SUV trunk, do it.

Travel cautiously and mindful of time

I’ve spoken to a few parents about the amount of time to keep babies in their car seats or how long you should be driving with them in the back before taking a break. One of the problems with even short distance commutes in the winter is the length of time it takes. During the first dumping of snow in Vancouver this winter (which, truth be told was around 2-3 inches in my area tops,) it took me 45 minutes each way to work on what is normally a 5-7 minute commute. With that in mind, many of my coworkers endured 3-4 hour evening commutes for 20km trips.

Post-Apocatyptic Vancouver
Post-Apocalyptic Vancouver

If you’re traveling with your infant or toddler, the most you should be looking to keep them in a car seat is around 90 minutes at a time before they’ll really start to get uncomfortable. There will be the odd time you can’t help it, but if you know that you’re going to be stuck in the car far longer, it might be in your best interest to wait out the traffic (if you can) before leaving homes or change/postpone plans somehow.

Hopefully your babies otherwise are agreeable to a longer commute because that’s not really something I can help you with! I know mine wouldn’t have any part of car rides longer than 20 minutes until she was a year older and graduated out of her infant car seat into the one she has today. That wasn’t a fun first winter, believe me.

The first snowfalls in some area of Canada happened as early as October this year so we got an early start to the winter weather. However, it still isn’t too late for you to look for a new car seat if you need one, or get in touch with the right folks to make sure that your car seat setup is nice and safe for your little.

Above all, be safe out there on the roads and bring plenty of extra music (The Wiggles being our in-car favourites right now) for the drives ahead. Lastly, remember that BestBuy.ca has a massive selection of car seats from infant all the way to booster if you think it’s time for an upgrade altogether.

Matt Paligaru
Emerging Technology
A technology nut at heart, I'm always interested in what makes our lives easier and helps us tick day to day. Whether Home Automation, toys, games (board and video) or everything in between, I'm always looking around the corner to see what drives us in today's day and age.