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Should I Replace My Child’s Car Seat After an Accident?

A car seat or booster seat is a legal requirement in Pennsylvania for children under the age of eight, as well as the best way to protect your child in the event of a motor vehicle accident. What many parents don’t know is that after a car accident occurs, they may need to replace their car seats for safety reasons. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has specific guidelines for when car seats do and do not need to be replaced after a crash.

A Minor Accident: No

Child seat safety recommendations by the NHTSA state that, in general, it is not necessary to replace a car seat after a minor accident. A minor accident or crash typically does not compromise the integrity of the car seat or damage its components in any measurable way that can harm a child. The NHTSA defines a minor crash as one in which all of the following are true:

  • You were able to drive the vehicle away from the crash site.
  • The vehicle door that is closest to the car seat did not sustain any damage.
  • None of the passengers in the car were injured in the car accident.
  • The airbag, if the vehicle is equipped with one, did not deploy.
  • The car seat has no visible damage.

If all of these stipulations apply to a car accident that you were recently involved in, it is classified as a minor crash, and you do not need to replace your car seat. In addition to these NHTSA guidelines, however, you should always follow your car seat manufacturer’s instructions and safety recommendations. The manufacturer of the seat may have different replacement suggestions than the NHTSA’s criteria.

A Moderate to Severe Accident: Yes

In a moderate to severe car accident, car seats should always be replaced. This is true even if your child wasn’t in the car seat at the time of the accident, you just bought the car seat or the car seat does not appear visibly damaged. A child safety seat or restraint system can sustain damage that is not visible to the naked eye. This makes it vital to always replace a car seat after a more serious accident since there is no way to certify that your car seat is still safe for your child. A moderate to severe car accident is a crash in which one or more of the above-listed elements do not apply.

Why Would You Need to Replace a Car Seat After an Accident?

The forces involved in a car accident are powerful. A car crash can involve a high-speed impact and gravitational forces that push, pull and jerk the occupants of the vehicle around. The delicate mechanics of a child safety seat are not immune to these forces. In a severe to moderate crash, the components of a car seat can sustain enough damage to make the device no longer capable of properly protecting a child occupant. 

Crash tests have shown that collisions above the level of minor accidents can stretch and tear a car seat’s safety straps, damage the anchor or tether strap, weaken the plastic structure, and cause other damage that you may not be able to see – even if it was empty during the wreck. This can result in little to no crash protection for the child in a subsequent car crash, even when the child is properly buckled up.

For these same reasons, it is also important never to use a used or secondhand car seat. If you don’t know its history, there is no way to tell if the car seat has been involved in an accident and could be compromised. In addition, older car seats may not use the latest child safety technologies available. Finally, an older car seat may be involved in a recall for a product defect that makes it unsafe for your child. If a defective car seat caused the injury of your child, contact our defective product lawyers in Pittsburgh for legal assistance in seeking compensation and holding the product manufacturers responsible.

Get Legal Help If You or a Loved One Has Suffered an Injury

For more information about what to do after a car accident involving a child, contact Dallas W. Hartman P.C. for a free consultation with an attorney. Our team of Pittsburgh car accident lawyers are knowledgeable of Pennsylvania car seat laws and can provide exceptional legal representation in your injury claim. 

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