Determining whether a child’s car seat is safe to use after being involved in a crash is important for ensuring the continued safety of that child. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) provides relatively clear guidelines to help parents and guardians make informed decisions regarding car seat safety post-collision.
By following these guidelines, parents can better ensure that they’re not unintentionally compromising their child’s safety by potentially allowing them to continue using a seat that may need to be replaced.
What does the NHTSA say?
According to the NHTSA, not all car crashes necessarily require the replacement of a car seat. The decision, firstly, depends on the severity of the crash. The NHTSA defines a crash as “minor” if it meets all the following criteria: the vehicle was able to be driven away from the crash site, the vehicle door nearest the car seat was not damaged, none of the passengers in the vehicle sustained any injuries in the crash, the airbags did not deploy and there is no visible damage to the car seat.
Even if the crash is considered minor, and the car seat appears undamaged, consulting the car seat manufacturer’s guidelines is recommended. Manufacturers may have specific instructions or recommendations regarding the use of their car seats after a crash. Some advise that parents replace affected seats and some don’t.
For crashes that do not meet the NHTSA’s criteria for a minor crash, replacing the car seat is clearly advised to ensure the utmost safety for the child who uses the seat. Severe crashes can compromise the structural integrity and functionality of a car seat, not always in ways that are visible. The forces involved in a moderate to severe crash can weaken the car seat’s components, potentially reducing its effectiveness in protecting a child in the event of another crash.
It’s worth noting that this guidance applies to car seats that were occupied – and those that weren’t – during collisions.