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Winter is here: Here we solve the main doubts that arise when traveling with children by car on very cold days

Llega el invierno: Resolvemos las principales dudas que pueden surgir a la hora de transportar a los niños en coche en los días más fríos

14/12/2020

As temperatures drop, many questions may arise as to the best way to travel with children by car. Should we keep their coat on while traveling in their car seat or should they have a blanket? Is it better to use a specific winter sack for these car seats? What is the adequate temperature inside the vehicle? In 'Children's Road Safety', the Prevention and Road Safety area of Fundación MAPFRE, we aim to solve the main doubts that may arise with the arrival of winter. 

We know that the driver must adjust the way he/she drives, being more cautious if it is raining, windy, snowing or foggy, and must also switch on the low beam lights during the entire day to increase visibility (except during sunlight hours). During the drop in temperature we want children to travel warmer inside the vehicle, but this option can be detrimental to their safety depending on the case. Here we address some doubts that may arise:

-Should children travel with their coat on?

We do not recommend traveling with bulky clothing on. Not just the children, adults too. The belt does not fit adjust property to the body and can cause the well-known 'submarine' effect. 

When a child is placed in the car seat with his/her coat on, the harness or belt does not fit properly. The harness must fit tightly. In fact, there should be a maximum gap of 1 inch between the child's body and the harness. If not fitted correctly, there could be a false sense of safety. Although the gap is 1 inch with a coat on, the actual safety level is different. If the child is wearing to much clothing, he/she could slip out of his/her coat.

The main recommendation is to remove their coat before getting into the vehicle and sitting them in their car seat without the garment. 

This video broadcast by Today (NBC) and the Daily Mail shows a mother putting her daughter in the car seat with her coat on and adjusting the harness. Then, she does the same but without the coat on. We can clearly see how loose the harness is. 

-Is a winter car seat sack better than using a blanket?

Before placing a winter sack on the child restraint system, we must read the manufacturer's instructions. Ideally, the temperature inside the vehicle should be pleasant enough to avoid having to wear any kind of coat. We recommend between 21 and 23 degrees. 

There are a variety of brands on the market that sell specific covers for child car seats. If these sacks are sold by the manufacturer for your specific seat, they usually do not affect safety as they are specially designed and have the necessary slots for the harness or seat belt. In a way, the manufacturer endorses that it is safe to use them.

Fundación MAPFRE does not recommend using any product that has not been approved or recommended by the manufacturer.

Using a blanket is also a good option. However, we must be careful with babies or newborns to avoid suffocation. 

-What is the ideal temperature inside the vehicle for traveling with children?

If the temperature is too high, this can directly affect the driver's ability behind the wheel by reducing his/her concentration and contributing to the onset of fatigue, drowsiness and torpidity. 

Similarly, excessive heat affects the comfort of other passengers and can lead to excessive sweating and even heat stroke  in the most severe cases. It should be remembered that heat stroke can occur not only if you leave children alone in a car in the full glare of the sun but also if they are exposed to high levels of humidity and temperatures without adequate protection or hydration. 

To this extent, we must remember that children have a lower water reserve. Their body temperature rises 3 to 5 times faster than an adult's. Moreover, the respiratory tract of children, which is still developing, means they are more vulnerable to heat exhaustion.

For all the above, we recommend setting the heating or air conditioning between 21 and 23 degrees, deflecting the air flow away from the the child.

It is important to keep a steady and well-regulated temperature inside the passenger compartment. If the vehicle is equipped with automatic climate control it will directly regulate the temperature.

-Can I place a child that is wet from the rain in his/her car seat?

The ideal option is to place the child in his/her car seat totally dry. On one hand, this will avoid affecting any of the car seat's elements. Over time the water could damage the different child car seat elements. The best idea would be to wait until the child has dried off to start the journey or change his/her clothes. In fact, if we place a towel underneath, we could cause the submarine effect, and the child could slip down.  

There is also the fact that it is not healthy to leave a child in wet clothes: the change of temperature, the clothes stay wet, and he/she could get a cold.

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