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The risk of puffy coats and child car seats during winter in Ohio

Ensuring the safety of children during travel is paramount for parents, with car seats being a critical tool in achieving this goal.

A row of car seats sit on store shelves

According to Ohio law, infants are required to travel in a rear-facing car seat. It is best practice that a baby remains rear facing as long as possible, or until they are at least two years old or reach the maximum height or weight set by the car seat manufacturer. Children who are younger than four years old or under 40 pounds must travel in a car seat. Children under the age of eight years old must use a car or booster seat unless they are tall enough or meet the minimum height requirements for an adult seat belt. Drivers who do not restrain a child properly or according to law could receive a traffic ticket and/or eventually have their driver’s license suspended.

Low-income families who live in Ohio can obtain a free car seat and/or booster through the Ohio Department of Health’s Buckles Buckeyes program. Families must be within the WIC eligibility guidelines and attend an educational class on how to properly install and use the car seat. In Cuyahoga County, the contact is through the Rainbow Injury Prevention Center. According to the center’s website, it also offers car seats at a significantly discounted rate compared to retail prices.

Because the first day of winter is fast approaching in Ohio, experts are also warning parents about a hidden danger many families are not aware of: the combination of puffer coats or vests and car seats.

Parents and guardians often opt for puffer vests and jackets for children because of their warmth and comfort, but when it comes to strapping a child into a car seat while they are bundled, experts say it could pose a threat to their safety. The primary concern with placing a child wearing a puffy coat into a car seat lies in the snugness of the harness. The coat creates a layer of padding that interferes with the proper tightening of the car seat straps, meaning if there is a collision, the force generated could compress the coat, leaving the harness too loose to effectively secure the young child.

A young child rides his bike

“It’s crucial for parents to be aware of the potential dangers it can pose in the context of car seat safety,” Kimberly Marshall, Step Forward’s Family Development Specialist, warned. “Prioritizing the proper fit of the harness over the coziness of a winter coat is a small but significant step toward ensuring a child’s safety during every car journey.”

Marshall suggested swapping out the puffer coats for young children and going with safer alternatives.

“Thin layers such as sweaters and fleece jackets don’t compromise the snugness of the car seat harness,” she explained. “Or, after securing your child in the car seat, you could use blankets to provide additional warmth. The important thing to remember there is that the blankets need to be placed over the harness, not beneath it.”

Parents should always check and adjust the harness straps to fit snugly against the child’s body, ensuring there is no excess slack.

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