Did you know that approximately 85% of children in South Africa travel completely unrestrained on South African roads, despite the fact that not having a child in a car seat is against the law.
According to the Medical Research Council of South Africa, car accidents are the fourth leading cause of unnatural death in South Africa – a largely preventable statistic, as research has found that a car seat reduces the chance of death in babies by 71% and in children by 54%. “Car seats are a necessity,” says Peggy Mars, the owner of Wheel Well, a Johannesburg-based non-profit organisation. “They are the only way to protect a child under the age of 10 in a car accident.” She adds that it is estimated that four children die on South African roads every day.
And if you are one of the 15% who do buckle up, there are some winter car-seat safety tips you need to consider. Registered nurse Debbi Baer, along with her daughter, Dr Alisa Baer, and her childhood friend Emily Levine, created thecarseatlady.com, an American-based website, to provide information and car seat fitting services to the public.
Winter car-seat safety tips to consider:
They share that one of the first things you tend to do in winter is bundle your child or baby up in a thick babygro or bulky, puffy jacket before placing them into the car seat. The average jacket creates a slack of between 7cm to 10cm into the harness straps of the car seat – but why should you care about 10cm, they ask?
- This is the difference between wearing a size 32 jeans or a size 36 (without a belt).
- This is compared to putting your newborn into size 5 nappies overnight.
- This can be compared to walking your dog with a collar 10cm loose at the neck.
If you have to loosen your child’s car seat harness to accommodate her clothing, what she is wearing is too bulky and needs to be removed first. The problem with these items, such as baby sleeping bags, puffy babygros and bulky jackets, is that they tend to flatten out in the event of an accident, allowing for slack in the restraints.
Crash-test dummy research, conducted by the Miriam Manary of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, found that 7cm to 10cm of slack resulted in the dummy’s head moving more than 10cm further than the properly buckled-in dummy. The American Academy of Pediatrics adds that bulky clothing or blankets under the restraints could result in your child slipping out of the protective harness, in the unforeseen event of an accident.
How to check if your little one is safely buckled in:
- Put the coat on your child, place her in the car seat and fasten the harness until you can no longer pinch the harness with your thumb and forefinger.
- Without loosening the harness, remove your child from the car seat.
- Take the coat off and put your child back in the car seat and buckle the straps. If you can now pinch the harness between your thumb and forefinger, then the coat is too bulky to be worn under the harness.
Tips to keep your baby warm in the car:
- Dress your baby in close-fitting layers, such as tights, leggings and long-sleeved bodysuits under the babygro. You can then add pants and a warmer top if needed, and finish off with a thin fleece jacket.
- The general rule of thumb is that your baby should wear one more layer than you do.
- You lose much of your body heat through your head, so a warm hat or beanie will help keep your baby or toddler warm.
- Once you have secured your baby into the car seat, you can then tuck a warm blanket or jacket over the seat restraints.
- Only use a car seat cover if it does not have a layer that goes under the baby. Nothing should ever go underneath your child’s body, or between the body and harness straps of the car seat.
- If the item did not come with the car seat, or is not an accessory available for that particular seat, it has not been crash tested, and could stop the car seat from doing its job.
- Never use sleeping bags, pram accessories or pillows with your car seat.
- The car seat harness should not have any twists or ripples when fastened. It’s considered tight enough when you cannot pinch the harness fabric between your fingers.
Kim Bell is a wife, mother of two teenagers and a lover of research and the way words flow and meld together. She has been in the media industry for over 20 years, and yet still learns more about life from her children everyday.