By SHANNON MOUDY, CBS2/FOX28
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KGAN/KFXA) — 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 said.
They want parents to know that bulky winter coats can lessen the effectiveness of your child's car seat.
"If babies (are) wearing a thick winter coat and they get in a crash, everything is going to compress," she explained. 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,” Sampson said, indicating 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," Sampson said.
"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 explained, giving the car seat a jostle to emphasize his point.
Buelow says in a crash, the body will continue moving until the seat belt stops it; a child can be seriously hurt if the straps are loose enough to allow further damage to their bodies and internal organs.
Still demonstrating, Sampson takes the baby doll out, leaving the straps unadjusted, showing just how loose those straps really were over the sweater.
She pulls on the straps, now hanging over the doll without its sweater. "Look at how loose these straps are,” she said, as she wiggled 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," Sampson explained.