Updated on January 21, 2016
Why the Today Show Car Seat Video Isn’t Helping
By now you’ve probably seen the video from the Today Show that was spreading like wildfire across social media on Monday. If you haven’t seen it, you can watch it here. This video was part of a special series called “Rossen Reports: Save A Life” and each day during that series the host, Jeff Rossen, is going to share some winter related safety tip. Sounds great, right? Sure. So what winter safety tip was being showcased in the video that went viral? Car seat safety. Yup. Now before you go celebrating how amazing it is that the mainstream media are finally spreading the word about not wearing winter coats in car seats, you might want to watch that video again. This is what I call an opportunity missed, and here’s why.
This segment on winter car seat safety had the potential to raise awareness about the dangers of wearing a snow suit or winter coat in a car seat. It had the potential to educate thousands, even tens of thousands (dare I say hundreds of thousands?), of parents who just did not know that the way they were buckling their children into their car seats during the colder months was unsafe. That’s the potential it had. But that’s all it was. Potential. Instead what resulted from this now viral video from the Today Show is the reinforcement of the idea that those parents who care so much about car seat safety are just over protective sanctimonious lunatics. Why? Let me explain.
First of all, the host of the segment starts out by demonstrating how he typically buckles his son into his car seat during the winter. He even shows how well he’s secured the harness on his son and says “this feels snug to me”. I don’t know where he’s from, but where I’m from there would be NOTHING “snug” about that harness. What is he thinking? Notice where he’s left the chest clip? Yes, that’s right, the chest clip is all the way down right against the crotch buckle. To make matters worse, Sue from Kids & Cars says “It looks like it’s tight”. I’m sorry, what? She goes on to show him how much slack there is when he removes his son’s puffy coat. Yes, there’s slack and lots of it, but there was also plenty of slack even before the winter coat was removed. Sue from Kids & Cars then points out that the winter coat is the ONE thing he’s done wrong, but she fails to draw attention to the NUMEROUS other things he’s also done wrong. Talk about a missed opportunity. I mean, if you’re going to have a segment called “Save a Life”, let’s at least point out that removing the winter coat isn’t the only thing he needs to do to save his son’s life! (Okay, yes I’m being a bit dramatic, but a news series all about avoiding death during the winter is pretty darned dramatic to begin with.)
To prove the point about the danger of wearing a winter coat in the car seat, we are going to see a controlled experiment. Yes! A crash simulation! I had high hopes. Here we have a crash test dummy wearing a winter coat. Perfect. Our lovely host is going to check that the “child” is buckled in properly. Here we go again. “To me, these straps feel pretty tight.” Nice and snug, right? WRONG! Why couldn’t an actual Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) buckle the crash test dummy into the seat? Not only are the harness straps WAY too loose, but the chest clip is down around the “child’s” belly button. I mean come on! It’s called a CHEST clip for a reason. Another misuse that’s completely ignored is the tether strap. Granted this is recommended but not required in the USA, but here in Canada the tether strap MUST be used when a car seat is forward facing. So I consider this to be yet another misuse. That brings the number of errors up to four: winter coat, harness does not pass the pinch test, chest clip too low, and the tether is not being used.
Now here’s the best part. When the crash is simulated, the “child” is ejected from the car seat and the winter coat easily slides right off. Is this proving the point that winter coats are unsafe in the car seat? It’s supposed to, but the other forms of misuse leave far too much open to interpretation. And that is exactly what was being focused on as this video spread across my Facebook newsfeed. I couldn’t tell you the number of times someone said “If those straps were done up properly that wouldn’t have happened.” In other words, parents legitimately believe that the problem was not the coat at all, but the loose harness and improperly positioned chest clip that resulted in the child’s partial ejection. And why wouldn’t they think that if they’re basing that opinion on this video? While it is true that the loose harness was a factor in the ejection, that wasn’t actually the point. The point they were trying to make was that the winter coat ALONE can result in partial or full ejection in the event of a crash. Tightening the straps so they pass the pinch test over a winter coat is NOT going to prevent your child from potentially being ejected from their car seat. And yet, that is not the message being taken home from this Today Show video.
The Today Show clearly had the resources to run a crash simulation to demonstrate that winter coats are not safe in the car seat. So why didn’t they run the simulation properly so they could prove their point? Why? For such a large news outlet to allow parents to believe that harness straps that are far from passing the pinch test are “snug” and safe is incredibly irresponsible. I can only think of one reason they did it this way. Sensationalism. The video of the crash test dummy being ejected from the car seat while wearing the winter coat is nothing if not dramatic. It’s right on par with the theme of the series which can only be described as “you might die this winter if you don’t watch this RIGHT NOW”. Yes, a child is likely to be ejected from their car seat when wearing a winter coat under the harness. Absolutely. But the more horrifying the Today Show can make it look, the better. So let’s not tighten those straps at all, and let’s not position the chest clip properly, and hey, let’s even leave the seat untethered. Why not? Surely they didn’t intend to give already confused parents more fodder for criticizing us car seat safety advocates by showing so much misuse that the winter coat seems like the least of our problems? Did they?
The bottom line is that this video just gives misinformed and unaware parents good reason to ignore the warnings about coats in car seats. Instead of proving that coats aren’t safe in car seats, they’ve just planted a tremendous amount of doubt that this is indeed true. If the Today Show couldn’t be bothered the run the crash simulation with the only misuse being the winter coat, then surely that’s because the winter coat alone wouldn’t result in partial or full ejection in a crash. Right? Wrong. So wrong.
Unlike the Today Show, I don’t have the resources to run a crash simulation where the only misuse is a winter coat under the car seat harness. I wish I did, but I don’t. What I do have are two children that
willingly allow me to use them to demonstrate the point about winter coats in car seats. Here’s the truth about it. When you buckle your child into their car seat with their coat on, and check that the harness has passed the pinch test, there’s still bulk between your child and the harness. No matter how hard you pull to tighten those straps, you will NEVER exert the same amount of force on that coat as the forces at play in a crash. It’s just physically impossible. When a crash occurs, the bulk left in that coat will compress leaving a gap between your child and their harness. The space created by the compression of the coat could be enough that your child would be partially or fully ejected from their car seat and even from the vehicle during a crash. Don’t think that’s possible or that it’s ever actually happened? Guess again.
I’m not going to go into detail here about the ways you can keep your child safe AND warm in their car seat over winter. I’ve already done that here. But suffice it to say that winter coats or snowsuits and car seats do not mix. Not ever. There are so many solutions to choose from that there is no excuse for buckling your child into their car seat with their winter coat on. None.
The next time the Today Show wants to attempt to clear away the misinformation surrounding car seat safety, maybe they can hire an actual CPST. Maybe, just maybe, they can actually spend some time explaining what proper use looks like and why it’s so important. Anything short of that is just irresponsible on their part.
If you are looking for more information on winter car seat safety, you can read my post about it HERE. Want to know what solutions there are to keep kids warm AND safe in their car seat this winter? My friend over at Maman Loup’s Den has compiled a whole bunch of options HERE.
What were your thoughts about the Today Show’s attempt at showcasing winter car seat safety? Did you think they made their point well?