Car seats have come a long way since their invention in the 1930s. These early versions, and the versions that rolled out for decades after, were more focused on keeping your tot from crawling around the vehicle uncontained, rather than protecting them in the event of an accident. Kids and roadway safety wasn’t a major concern, which means that the question, “do I need to replace a car seat after an accident,” wasn’t likely on many parents’ radars.
It wasn’t until 1985 that child passenger safety laws were finally implemented. These laws included requirements for children under a certain age to wear proper restraints.
Since 1995, when the LATCH system, which featured lower and upper anchors that made car seats more stable in a crash, car seats have been rapidly improving. Today, car seat models are capable of protecting infants, toddlers, and even older children from danger. There has been no shortage of instances of babies and children walking away from very serious accidents unscathed.
But after your car seat has done its job, can you use it again? Keep reading to learn what you need to know about the answer to the big question; “do I need to replace my car seat after an accident?”
Do I Need to Replace My Car Seat After an Accident?
As a parent, you would never let your child ride in a vehicle without a car seat. In fact, many parents spend hours pouring over research on the top models available each year. They check out the latest features, each designed to enhance safety and better protect your precious cargo.
Following an accident, you’ll have a lot on your mind. Assuming that your car seat performed as it should, one big thing you’ll be thinking about is how grateful you are for that seat. It very likely protected your child from what could have been serious injuries.
But now that your car has been repaired or replaced, your own injuries treated, and life is getting back to normal, it’s time to load your child into the car once more. This is when you may find yourself with a big question; “Do I need to replace my car seat after an accident?”
With so many other things to think about, if your car seat looks okay, you might not even think about this question. After all, if it isn’t visibly damaged, and it protected your child in the last accident, you’ll likely assume that it will do the same in future ones. However, this may not be the case.
Instead, experts do recommend replacing car seats after accidents in some circumstances. It comes down to the severity of the accident.
Do I Need to Replace My Car Seat After Minor Accidents?
Any kind of incident in which your vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object like a wall or guardrail can be considered an accident. This makes it tough to say that you always need to replace your car seat after an accident.
In the case of a minor accident, it’s unlikely that your car seat was affected. It kept your child in place and padded them from the impact. But the structural integrity of the car seat was not affected. If this is the case, there is no reason to replace the car seat after the accident. Instead, you can continue using it with the assurance that it will continue to protect your child.
How do you know whether or not your collision counts as a minor accident? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration classifies minor accidents as those that meet all of the following requirements:
- The car can be driven away from the crash site and does not need to be towed.
- No passengers in the vehicle sustained injuries of any kind.
- The car seat has no visible damage.
- For cars that have airbags, no airbags can have deployed as a result of the accident.
- The door of the vehicle that is located the closest to the car seat did not sustain any damage in the impact.
Do I Need to Replace My Car Seat After More Severe Accidents?
If you were in an accident, and it did not meet even just one of the requirements listed above, the accident is no longer considered to be minor. Instead, it now enters the classification of moderate or severe.
In either case, it’s important to replace your car seat following the accident.
Keep in mind that it is only necessary for one of the above requirements to not be met. For instance, even if the car seat has no visible damage, if an airbag deployed, the closet door was damaged, or another passenger was injured, the car seat should be replaced.
Car seat manufacturers also release their own guidelines for use. You can check these guidelines to learn whether other factors may require you to replace your car seat following a minor accident.
Does My Car Seat Need to Be Replaced if My Child Wasn’t In It During the Crash?
Many parents leave a car seat in their vehicle even when they aren’t traveling with their child. If you are in an accident and your car seat is in the car but your child is not, you might assume that you are okay to continue using the seat. After all, it wasn’t in use during the crash.
However, the car seat was still involved in the accident. This means that whether or not your child was riding in the car seat at the time, you still need to follow the guidelines listed above when determining whether or not you need to replace it.
Keeping Your Child Safe on the Go
Motor vehicle accidents are a leading cause of death among children under the age of 12 in the U.S. Each year, more than 600 children age 12 or young die in car crashes. An additional 97,000 are injured.
In 33 percent of crashes in which a child dies, evidence shows that they were not properly restrained. Choosing the right car seat or booster seat, and making sure that your child is properly restrained for their age and size, is a matter of life or death.