CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (CBS2/FOX28) — A car seat that's properly installed can save your child's life, but there is one step you may not be aware of when buckling up your little one.
It's the hidden danger every time you buckle in your children this winter -- their coat.
While it may be keeping them warm in the car, it can be a risk you never knew was there.
The Cedar Rapids Police Department is warning parents about it.
"A lot of parents, when we put this out, they were like 'Oh my gosh, I had no idea. I didn't know that,'" CRPD Officer Shannon Sampson says.
They want parents to know that bulky winter coats can lessen the effectiveness of your child's car seat.
"If babies wearing a thick winter coat and they get in a crash, everything is going to compress," she explains. That means while your child may seem tightly buckled and secure in the seat with a coat on, that may not be the case.
"These are tightened down,” Officer Sampson indicates to car seat straps during a demonstration. “We're saying this is baby with a bulky sweater on."
A coat or jacket can add even millimeters of dangerous space. "Probably not hold baby in the seat or baby could even go flying out depending on how loose the straps are," Officer Sampson says.
"It's going to go forward and back but you don't want that baby moving in here," Cedar Rapids public safety communications coordinator Greg Buelow explains, giving the car seat a jostle to emphasize his point. Buelow says in a crash, the body will continue moving until the seatbelt stops it; a child can be seriously hurt if the straps are loose enough to allow further damage to their bodies and internal organs.
Officer Sampson then takes the baby doll out, leaving the straps unadjusted, showing just how loose those straps really were over that sweater.
She pulls on the straps, now hanging over the doll without its sweater. "Look at how loose these straps are,” she says as she wiggles the straps around. “Up here, if we do the pinch test we can pinch two pieces together, so that's not safe."
It's a scary thought, but the solution is simple. You can do this test yourself to make sure your child's coat isn't leaving too much room in the straps. Even if it is, you don't have to leave baby feeling cold.
"Buckle baby in, then you can put blankets over top or even the coat over top," Officer Sampson explains.
The Linn County Safe Kids coalition will check your car seats to make sure they're safe, as well as give you some tips on how to buckle kids in the winter. You can reach them at (319) 654-2221 or visit safekids.org/coalition/safe-kids-linn-county.