Jill Kolodner | May 9, 2022 | Car Accidents
Child car seats look sturdy. After all, parents depend on a car seat to protect their children during a car accident.
But most parents also know that car seats break down over time. Age can compromise the materials, and car accidents can cause unseen damage to the car seat.
Read on to learn when you can use a car seat after an accident.
How Car Seats Work
Every state has a car seat law. Maryland requires parents to use an age-appropriate child restraint until the child reaches eight years old or 4 feet 9 inches in height.
For infants, this means the child should ride in a rear-facing seat with a five-point harness. The rear-facing orientation supports the infant’s head since infants lack the neck strength to support their heads in an accident. The five-point harness prevents the child from getting ejected from the seat.
After the child reaches two years old or 20 pounds, you can switch to a front-facing car seat with a five-point harness. At this age, the child has the strength to support their head, but not the size to fit the shoulder and lap belt built into the car.
The five-point harness secures the child to the car seat. The car seat, in turn, anchors to the vehicle. In a car accident, the harness restrains the child from getting ejected from the vehicle. It also prevents the child from flying around the passenger compartment.
A car seat with a five-point harness reduces the risk of serious injury by as much as 82% compared to seat belts.
After the child reaches 40 pounds, they can graduate to a booster seat and use your vehicle’s lap and shoulder belt. The booster seat lifts your child high enough that the shoulder belt crosses their shoulder and chest instead of their neck.
In this position, the seat belt will restrain the child during a collision rather than injuring their neck or allowing them to slide under the shoulder belt. For children between the ages of four and eight years old, using a booster seat reduces serious injuries by 45% compared to using seat belts without a booster.
Damage to the Car Seat During a Collision
Car seats have several parts that can get damaged during a car accident:
Most newer cars have anchor points where you can clip the anchors on the car seats. Older cars without anchor points can hold the car seat using the seat belt.
The anchors, anchor straps, or seat belt passageway can get damaged during a crash. Small tears or cracks can develop in plastic parts, and metal parts can bend under the stress of a car accident.
The harness usually includes a metal retainer, nylon straps, and two buckles. The metal retainer and buckles can bend or crack during a car crash. The buckles and retainer can also cut the nylon straps. Even if the straps do not get torn or frayed, they can stretch during a crash.
The plastic seat can bend and deform during a car accident. For the seat and seat back, this deformation might not compromise safety. But if the slots for the harness and anchors deform, they could crack and break in a subsequent collision.
When to Replace a Car Seat After an Accident
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that you can keep your car seat after a minor accident. But the NHTSA recommends you replace your car seat after a serious accident.
According to the NHTSA, if you had a minor accident, you do not need to replace your car seat if the accident did not:
- Disable your vehicle
- Damage the vehicle door on the side of the car seat
- Injure any occupants
- Cause the airbags to deploy
- Visibly damage the car seat
If you can answer “no” to all of the above items, you can continue to use your car seat. But if one of these things did happen, you need to replace the seat.