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Is Child Car Seat Replacement Necessary Following a Car Crash?

Following any car crash, minor or severe, child car seat replacement will most likely be necessary. In some instances, after what the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) considers a minor accident, certain seats will meet the agency's reuse criteria. However, mandatory replacement is required in most cases, after any accident, regardless of severity.

The NHTSA's criteria for a minor crash are broken down into five guidelines, ALL of which must be met before reuse.

· The vehicle was able to be driven away

· The vehicle door nearest the car seat was not damaged

· None of the passengers sustained any injuries

· The air bags, if any, did not deploy

· There is no visible damage to the car seat

If you are involved in a crash and the vehicle is safe for you and the other occupants (no chance of fire), remain in the vehicle until first responders arrive. Do not remove your child from the car seat. The seat will keep the child stable, in case he or she was injured. The child may be transported to the hospital in the car seat. If the accident is minor and there are no serious injuries you need to use common sense to decide whether or not to drive home or to a medical center with the child still in the seat. An ideal solution would be to have someone bring a new car seat replacement and change out the old one at the scene. Another would be calling a friend or relative with a car seat for the same size child for a ride, but of course those are not likely scenarios. The children must be transported to somewhere that is safe, but they must never ride with the seat belt only unless they pass the five-step test below:

1. Their knees bend comfortably at the seat edge with their feet flat on the floor.

2. Their backside is all the way back in the seat.

3. The lap belt lies low on the hips, at the top of the thighs.

4. The shoulder belt crosses the collarbone.

5. The big preteen or teen can remain seated like this for the entire ride.

Most children require a booster seat well into their tween years, and some into their early teens. This often surprises parents, as they remember riding without any safety accessory when they were six or seven years old. Many, as toddlers, rode in the lap of a parent. Today virtually all health and safety organizations recommend that children use a booster seat of some sort until their bodies reach the size of an adult.

Following a Crash or Accident

If your vehicle has been involved in a major crash, car seat replacement is required, even if the seat was unoccupied at the time. Car seats are designed to handle only one major accident, as are bike helmets. There is no guarantee that a car seat will not fail if involved in a second accident. It did its job and needs to be retired.

Some, but not many, seats may be reused after a minor crash. This information is contained in the car seat's manual and can be clarified by contacting the manufacturer. If it is one that allows reuse, be certain that the crash meets all of the criteria of the NHTSA's guidelines of a minor crash, listed at the top of this article.

In California, there is a section of the insurance code that requires an insurance company replace a child restraint regardless if it were occupied or unoccupied at the time of the accident. Often insurance companies will deny a claim if the crash meets the NHTSA's criteria for a minor accident or if the seat was unoccupied. The insurance company cannot make the NHTSA's guidelines apply to a restraint which the manufacturers says must be replaced after any crash. You may need to provide a copy of the owner's manual to the insurance company. The manufacturer may send a letter to the insurance company with their replacement requirements spelled out.

When discarding the old car seat check with your city or town for recycling information. Almost all child restraints can be recycled.

Not All Car Seats are Created Equal

Car seats and boosters are one of the child safety products most frequently recalled by manufacturers for potential hazards. When replacing the car seat it is always wise to check to see which seats are recommended by the safety and health organizations. A quick online search will bring up several lists of the safest products.

Vititoe Law Group is committed to the safety of children on our roads and highways. Car seats and boosters are designed for the safety of children riding in cars. If a child is injured in an accident due to the failure of on of these products, the manufacture can be held legally responsible for the injuries. If your child was hurt in an accident due to a faulty child restraint system, contact Vititoe Law Group and speak with an experienced product liability attorney today.

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