Crashes are the No. 1 killer of kids up to age 13, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic, and safety experts want you to know that simply removing a big puffy jacket before securing a child in a seat belt or car seat can help save the child's life.

Car seat
Fuse, ThinkStock

Bulky jackets protect from the cold — but, spokesperson Tracy E. Noble cautions, when worn under a seat belt or child seat harness, a gap created by the material can put a child at risk of injury in the event of an accident.

"You want that seat belt and that harness to be as close to your child as possible. That way it works in the most effective way," Noble said.

The more layers of padding or clothing between a child and a harness, the harder it is to properly fit the restraint. AAA Mid-Atlantic warns the seat belt can end up fitting to the puffy jacket, and when impact occurs, the jacket compresses and creates a gap between the passenger and seat belt — which can lead to a passenger slipping through the restraint, or worse, being ejected from the seat.

AAA Mid-Atlantic notes the same concept applies for children riding in booster seats and adults in seat belts. The auto club points out the harness straps should lay flat and not have any twists.

Seat belts for people of all ages are best worn close to the body and have long been proven to help the body slow down and protect the brain and spinal chord in the event of impact, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.

After warming up the vehicle, AAA Mid-Atlantic recommends removing the bulky jacket, then placing the child in the car seat, and securing the child to ensure a snug fit.

"Either put a blanket over them or even reverse their jacket so that they put that on backward sort of speak, and it goes around the car seat," Noble said.

Children also can wear hats or gloves to keep warm in the car, but one thing to AAA Mid-Atlantic suggests to keep in mind is that too many layers in a warm-up car can cause a child to become overheated and cranky, possibly causing a distraction for the driver.  Even the smallest babies need only one more layer of clothing than their parents to remain comfortable, according to the auto club.

Other ways AAA Mid-Atlantic offers for safely buckling a child into their seat during the winter months:

  • The backwards coat: Secure the child in the car seat without a coat and after snugly strapping the child in, put the coat on the child backward. This method keeps the harness snug to the child and allows the child freedom to remove his or her coat if the child gets too warm.
  • Open coat: Have the child put his or her coat on, but don't zip it up. Load the child into the car seat and secure the belt, making sure that it fits snugly.
  • The shower cap-style cover placed over the rear-facing infant carrier: This type of cover doesn't interfere with the harness and is easily opened or removed if the child starts to get too warm.

Contact reporter Dianne DeOliveira at

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