The following was written by a unique blend of Mitch the accountant and Mitch the Daddy. Viewer discretion is advised.
For those of the faint of heart or of active imagination, please read with a detached mindset and take all information with a grain of salt. The data used involved a combination of some research, some guesswork and several assumptions.
I’ve done a lot of reading recently about infant/child carseat safety and even wrote a short piece about it here. I am confident that my daughter’s carseat has been installed correctly since the angle of recline appears correct and 2 people cannot move the seat more than 1 inch in any direction using maximum force. However, I recently learned that no matter how well a carseat is installed, if your child is wearing any clothing that contains a filling (for example a winter jacket filled with down and air), this “inflation” can mislead parents to believe that their child is securely fastened into the carseat. You see, there have been instances reported where a child was apparently ejected from a carseat in a violent collision due to an easy-to-commit oversight. In a violent impact, the air in the jacket compresses, exposing the actual tightness of the belt to be insufficient to secure the child into the seat.
The problem is this: there is no solution to this issue short of removing the child’s jacket before placing them into the carseat. The force that an adult is capable of exerting on the tightening strap on the carseat is not even close to enough to compress the air within the jacket in order to tighten the belt to the point at which the child is secure. This is not guesswork or assumption, it is fact. By removing the jacket though, you expose your child to the cold from which the very jacket you are removing was designed to protect them!
So…we have a decision to make as parents and protectors of our children. As I see it, you have to choose from the following options (assuming it is cold enough outside that you risk your child getting sick):
- Remove the child’s jacket, exposing them to the extreme cold in order to buckle them into the car seat securely
- Leave the child’s air-filled jacket on and secure the belt as tight as possible
- Put a non-filled jacket on your child; a jacket that contains no air but might be insufficient to protect them against the cold when entering and exiting the vehicle
As parents, every action we take with regards to our children comes with a risk analysis, whether you consciously realize it or not. Even something as minor as telling my daughter not to throw her food on the floor comes with a consequence. I have to tell her to either:
- leave her food on her plate (message – leaving a mess is ok)
- throw the leftover food in the garbage (message – food is garbage)
- my personal favourite – make clean up! (consequence – potentially turn my daughter into a neurotic clean freak!)
When it comes to her safety though, the risk analysis is a conscious one and the decision is beyond important since her life is at stake. This brings us back to my nemesis, the carseat. The risks and consequences of each of the above numbered choices are as follows:
1. By removing the jacket, I risk my daughter being exposed to extreme cold, possibly compromising her immune system and leaving her vulnerable to any number of viruses, including the flu. According to Statistics Canada, at the high end of the range, about 6 children out of 100,000 (or 0.006%) die each year from the flu and related complications. If I had to guess the risk of her actually getting the flu from being without a jacket, I think a fair figure would be a 15-20% increase in risk. If we apply the increased risk from the cold affecting your child’s defenses against the virus, that jumps to 0.0072%.
2. If I leave my daughter’s air-filled jacket on, I risk her being ejected from her carseat in a violent collision. However, the likelihood of such a collision taking place at speeds under 60 km/hr (a speed that I never exceed while driving in the city over short distances) are essentially zero. This is according to data gathered from 2003 to 2008 from both Statistics Canada and Transport Canada. In the US, statistics are compiled by individual states and by several unrelated agencies, specifically the Centers for Disease Control (weird) and Prevention and The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (less weird) making a proper analysis all but impossible. The testing data from the Canadian sources seems more than sufficient for the moment.
Collisions in which sufficient force is applied to the child’s carseat harness to eject a child from the carseat in which the straps might have some slack due to an air-filled jacket ordinarily occur at speeds exceeding 80 km/hr. For this conclusion, I am making the assumption that there is no more than one inch of air expansion in the jacket (meaning no more than one inch of slack on the harness). Therefore, driving below 60 km/hr essentially removes all risk of serious injury. For argument’s sake, let’s say you have to exceed this “safe threshold” speed with your child in the filled jacket. Again, according to the statistics sources noted above, approximately 100 young children die each year in collisions. There are few, if any reports of properly restrained children dying in lower-speed collisions or being ejected from a vehicle in a lower-speed collision. With this lack of data in mind, we can likely apply the above conclusions that only higher-speed collisions cause ejections and deaths, making this speed of travel the sole risk to your child. There are obviously still some risks involved in having your child slightly loose in the carseat (i.e. whiplash) but for the purpose of this discussion I am looking at life-threatening consequences only.
3. Using a lighter jacket may nullify the risk of a child being ejected from the carseat in a collision but in my opinion would not do a whole lot to protect against the cold. In fact, it may cause parents to feel a false sense of security that their child is adequately protected against the cold!
So given these options, what to decide? Tighten the harness as much as possible while she’s wearing the big winter coat but she’s nice and toasty warm? Let her suffer in the cold until the car warms up but safe and sound with a tight buckle?? It’s easy to be conflicted when facing a decision such as this. However, in reality, the risk of injury to your child in both scenarios is essentially zero. In fact, I’m likely doing more damage to my daughter by spending the last few hours writing this article and not reading to her or cooking up something special in her Easy Bake Oven!!
I’ll conclude here by revealing my decision which is to leave my daughter in her down jacket when strapping her (as tight as possible) into her carseat. Intentionally exposing her to the cold is just unacceptable in my mind given the minuscule risk of a violent collision enroute to daycare. However, on a longer trip (even one taking place at low speeds), I will remove the jacket at the earliest possible (and safe) moment, once the cabin of the car has warmed up. All I can say in closing is that I hope she doesn’t grow up to be as neurotic as her Daddy!!
For further reading, check out this great analysis and report on child carseat testing and research from Transport Canada. Also, have a read on Common Installation Mistakes from Parents.com
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3 thoughts on “Child Carseats and Poofy Winter Jackets: A Risk Analysis by the Daddy Accountant”
Thank you for sharing your opinion. As a car seat technician, I highly recommend taking the coat off. I know you said that you think the risk of injury is almost zero, by why take that chance? You know that one small step will save her life if you are in a collision, so just take it. I became a car seat technician, because I am a parent, and I want to know how to protect my children, and I want to help other parents protect their child.
Please see this post I wrote where I show what happens when the coat is removed (mimicking the compression that would happen during a collision) — http://www.mapsgirl.ca/2013/10/car-seat-safety-no-winter-coats.html
I would take a chance at risking injury in a collision only to mitigate a more dangerous threat, in this case the risk of flu or a compromised immune system. Yes, there is a chance that a collision occurs and that the loose harness leads to an ejection from the vehicle. However, exposure to cold in this part of the world is a far more dangerous threat to my child’s life.
This is quite clearly a very hard decision to make, and though I agree with your decision to keep the coat on, I think the reasoning is somewhat faulty. Many accidents happen only a few blocks from home, two of mine were only a ten minute walk from my house. I’m not sure how puffy our children’s winter coats were years ago, that being said, I still would have buckled them in with the coat and did.