Why the Today Show Car Seat Video Isn’t Helping

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.

Why The Today Show Car Seat Video Isn't Helping
This is what the host of Rossen Reports “Save A Life” thinks a “snug” car seat harness looks like. Yes, he is pulling it well away from his son with both of his hands between the harness and his child.

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.)

Why The Today Show Car Seat Video Isn't Helping
The “expert” from Kids and Cars had nothing to say about the positioning of the chest clip. Nothing.

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.

Why The Today Show Car Seat Video Isn't Helping
Do they Jeff? Do they really? Again he’s able to easily pull the strap away from the “child” with his whole hand between the harness and the “child”.

Why The Today Show Car Seat Video Isn't Helping

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.

Why The Today Show Car Seat Video Isn't Helping
Though it is just recommended to use the tether strap when forward facing in the USA, it is required in Canada. While the tether is not used for the crash test with the winter coat on, it is used for the crash test with the winter coat off.

Why The Today Show Car Seat Video Isn't Helping

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?

Why The Today Show Car Seat Video Isn't Helping
Don’t bother to focus on this very important safety tip, Jeff. Let’s just move right along.

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.

Why The Today Show Car Seat Video Isn't Helping
At long last a brief moment demonstrating how to properly tighten the harness in the car seat. Finally!

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.

Why The Today Show Car Seat Video Isn't Helping
On the left, this harness passes the pinch test with the winter coat on. On the right, the winter coat is removed without loosening the harness, and you can see just how much slack is left.

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.

Why The Today Show Car Seat Video Isn't Helping
On the left, this harness passes the pinch test with the snow suit on. On the right, the snow suit is removed without loosening the harness, and you can see just how much slack is left.

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.

Why The Today Show Car Seat Video Isn't Helping
Wait a second. There was a child crash test dummy in a car seat where the only misuse is the winter coat? Umm… Can someone tell me why this one didn’t go through the crash simulation? Note that this crash test dummy isn’t even mentioned at any time during the segment.

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? You’ll find a list of car seat safe options that I’ve compiled at the bottom of my winter car seat safety post.

What were your thoughts about the Today Show’s attempt at showcasing winter car seat safety? Did you think they made their point well?


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50 Comments on “Why the Today Show Car Seat Video Isn’t Helping

  1. No, I didn’t think they made the point very well. And I also noticed the correctly buckled dummy in a coat that didn’t get used. My thoughts were maybe they did use it at one point and the results weren’t so dramatic. Or maybe they wanted to show a “real life” parent buckling it in. I don’t know, but I was very disappointed after I watched it. I thought we would finally get to see what happens if an otherwise properly buckled in child was wearing a winter coat.

    • It’s almost as though it was intended to be a much longer segment. I could see them doing a “real parent” demo, but then don’t say it’s done *almost* right if it’s still far from it!

  2. Talk about a missed opportunity. That said, I think that it’s those of us who are fairly well versed on car seat use who will have noticed all the shortcomings. So, the unknowing viewer will still get the “no snow suit in car seat” message. However, they will have missed many other vital messages about other things they may be doing incorrectly. Having been in a TV news feature before myself, I suspect the tech tried to get her message across, but it got lost on the editing floor.

    • I’m sure some pertinent moments were cut. Must have been! Yes, those of us already “in the know” would have picked up on a lot of these issues right away.

  3. Great post, so many people are unaware of the proper ways to ensure carseat safety. Will be sharing for sure!

  4. I didn’t see the segment, but it sounds like a disaster. It doesn’t seem like they helped at all, and actually hurt what could have been useful information. Very disappointing.

  5. I live in Ohio where it gets pretty dang cold. When friends asked how we traveled since our 3 year old can’t wear his coat in the car I said you wear layers, use blankets and blast the heat. It’s unfortunate that something that could have informed so many did not.

  6. I haven’t watched the video. I think you have a good point about riding with coats off though.

  7. Yes..I thought the same thing. If there is going to be warning video they should ask east make it correctly.

  8. I am amazed at the number of people who are unaware of proper carseat safety. And I pretty much giggled through your whole post because you caught so many good points. Not that this is a laughing matter but you know.. 🙂

  9. Really great points! Wow you’ve really brought a lot of interesting points to the forefront. I actually haven’t watched the video myself but I knew the message. I was actually someone who probably knew better but still did the winter coat thing. When this video went viral I made the decision to make the right choice and choose safety over convenience. It was a good reminder for me. But you’ve definitely made everyone dig a little deeper into the issue.

  10. I agree and also noticed how loose the straps were etc. However, I still think the information shared most likely scared a lot of parents. I’m not a fan of the media for this reason. Everything is to scare the public and make things seem worse than they really are. In this case though if more parents take off their child’s coat now after watching it’s a step in the right direction.

  11. Great response!!! I was so frustrated when I saw the segment and noticed the errors in buckling the child in. Yes those errors made the ejection more dramatic but also much less scientific.

  12. Will this cause some parents or drivers of children in car seats more apt to not use the harnesses correctly? That’s one concern.

  13. I did not watch the car seat video, but now I’m glad I didn’t because it sounded like they missed the mark terribly.

  14. I’m glad you wrote this! I never put my kids in their full winter gear in their cars seats more for comfort reasons. They would be sweaty and nasty when we arrived where we were going. I hate when they exaggerate so much to try to proove a point. It is unnecessary. The pictures you showed prove the point just fine!

    • I agree with you. My kids would both overheat if I left them in their big winter coats anyways (aside from the whole safety issue of it). Thanks for reading!

  15. I agree and noticed too that it was ridiculous the way the child was strapped into the car seat. The crash test dummy would have flown out of that car without the coat on. You hit the nail on the head with the fact that they wanted it to be dramatic; as if your child wearing the coat and flying out wasn’t enough. Thank you for pointing this out and kudos for speaking up! HUGE missed opportunity.

  16. Thankfully I missed this segment on the Today show and I’m glad!! My fiance saw it and told me that they didn’t even do the straps correctly. I’m glad everything I’ve shared with him about car seat safety has made an impact and he remembers. Someone asked us yesterday if we needed a snowsuit/winter suit for our baby, because I wrapped her up in a blanket to head out to the car. “Nooooo, no we don’t. It’s not safe.” I said. I annoy my friends and family will all of my carseat posts on Facebook, but it’s because I care about these children.
    You’d think a widely watched television show would show everything correctly while showing what’s being done wrong. Guess not.. 🙁

  17. Loved this article. I always make sure my husband has the chest clip right and the straps secure.

  18. I agree. As I was watching the video, I thought to myself that the host didn’t put his child correctly in the car seat, and I did notice that the dummy wasn’t securely in it either. Of course they just wanted the dramatic effect of having the dummy thrown out of the car seat. I liked how she explained how to correctly buckle kids into their seats at the end, but the video could have been so much better and educational if all the demos were buckled correctly.

  19. I have seen the outrage posted, but had not watched it. When I was pregnant with my oldest, I attended a car seat safety course offered by our local health department, but even they did not say placing a child in a car seat with a thick jacket on was wrong. I didn’t know until after my oldest’s first Winter, when I found a car seat safety blog on Facebook. I wish I had known these things before, but I am glad articles such as this are becoming more prevalent to help educate parents on car seat dangers.

  20. I don’t think their intent was lost– I’d suspect many viewers took the ” no winter jackets on car seats” message to heart. What’s dangerous, though, is the number of parents who looked at the other safety errors–the low chest clip and the lose harness–and felt (maybe unconsciously) validated in their own misuse of the product. When we see others echo mistakes we make without correction, we become more comfortable with them and the behavior is reinforced.

  21. I noticed the error in strap tightness/ placement when I saw this as well. Fortunately I am educated and also know the dangers of winter coats and car seats.

  22. I hate that they didn’t do things right on the segment! But it’s great that it created awareness. I think it started a dialog about car seat safety and probably encouraged some people to do more research about it that wouldn’t have if the segment hadn’t happened.

  23. It drives me crazy seeing babies and children buckled in their car seats incorrectly either extremely loose, with the chest clip on the belly area or both. This video is very misleading.

  24. Wow, I hadn’t seen this but yeah that’s a lot of car seat errors. Plus the dummy looks like it’s a small child under 2 so it would have also been a good time to point out the new recommendations about keeping children rear facing much longer. They definitely should have had a certified professional doing the demonstrations.

  25. Wow I notice the problems with the chest clip but even I over looked the tether. This post is wonderful. I feel like this needs to be just a viral as that video!

  26. I totally agree. Car seat safety needs to be taken more seriously in the US.

  27. I was just talking about this segment earlier today. I was waiting for her to comment on how his son was buckled in but nadda. Such a missed opportunity. They tried to focus on the jacket aspect but there are so many other things that are wrong that they didn’t correct and may give parents the illusion that those were correct. I hope those parents learn otherwise.

  28. Last week, I caused a commotion on my Fb page when I posted that video (its great to check if people are reading you)! Two days later, I made a post saying that if the fact that that video was so sensationnalist did not encourage people to get some verified info about real car safety then they should read your article!

  29. I never watched the video because “I already know how to buckle my child” (i know. I know) But yeah, I get onto my family sll the time because I don’t feel they take my daughter’s life seriously sometimes when they buckle her. I’ve had to threaten to not leave her with them ever to get them to even pay attention to me. Then I’m the “bad guy” (well. This got off track….)

    I do think they missed some critical opportunities here, but hopefully somebody will take away an important lesson!

  30. I had not seen the Today Show video until I read your post, but wow! It’s incredible how little the general public knows about something as important as car seat safety. It’s a subject that I am personally very passionate about. Each year I average about 40,000 miles and I would say 90% of that is on the interstate going 75mph. I have seen some awful wrecks that no one ever intended or planned on being in, so many factors that are unforeseeable and outside of our control, yet we CAN control that our precious babies are secured as safely as possible.

  31. Great article! I knew about the other things, but not the winter coat, although I do remember my mom teaching me to take winter coats off before strapping kids into car seats. I just wasn’t sure why.
    Glad to know this before my first one comes! (I’m due in April).

  32. This conversation came up at my husband’s work holiday party and one of the dads that saw it actually used it as an argument to continue to use a winter coat. If that is the result, I would say they missed the mark!

  33. I love this post – its nice to see the common sense! I have visited the crash test lab for the coat I designed for the car seat and your observation is absolutely correct the dummy in the news clip is not buckled in properly.

    When measuring for safety the main unit of measurement used to is called a HIC (Head Injury Criterion) which basically measures how far and how fast the head moves and stops during a crash. The slack in the harness caused by a winter coat increases the distance of the movement which also increases the risk of injury.

    HIC is generally not really observable to the naked eye which is why they chose to “dramatize” the news report. I agree wholeheartedly though the dramatization hurt the argument. I too have heard a lot of parents now say “well since that kid was strapped in incorrectly all I have to do is strap my kid tightly” – which is wrong.

    With that taking the coat off all the time is just plain difficult for most parents. Our redesigned coats which has been crash tested correctly 🙂 and evaluated by CPSTs provides the best of both worlds, warmth and safety, for parents. Check us out at http://www.bucklemecoats.com

  34. I’m disappointed in the Today Show report. Your photos tell the whole story. I’m now a believer.

  35. I couldn’t believe the today show video. It’s great to get the correct way to install and place a child onto a car seat. It’s great to spread the word out because not many parents like myself years ago didn’t know the correct way. Now I’m happy to know the right way to install and place my child into the car seat. I share a lot of car seat posts to my page. I want all children to be safe.

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