There was a time when parents in Texas and around the country were urged to replace car seats after even minor accidents, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration no longer recommends this. Instead, the road safety agency has developed a set of guidelines to help parents determine whether or not new car seats are required following a crash. Car seat manufacturers also provide recommendations, and some of them take a more cautious approach than does the NHTSA.
NHTSA car seat guidelines
The NHTSA still recommends replacing car seats after severe or moderate accidents, but car seats may still be fit for purpose after a minor collision according to the agency. It considers a car accident to be minor when it meets the following five criteria:
- The vehicle’s air bags did not deploy
- The car was drivable after the crash
- The door closest to the car seat was undamaged
- None of the vehicle occupants was injured
- The car seat does not appear to be damaged
Car seats that appear to be undamaged after a car accident are not always safe to use, which is why many car seat manufacturers including Graco recommend replacement even after collisions that the NHTSA would consider minor. Other manufacturers like Britax advise parents to follow the NHTSA guidelines. When in doubt, parents should consult the owner’s manual that came with their car seats and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Motor vehicle accidents are one of the leading causes of death for children in the United States, so car seats are crucial pieces of safety equipment. A car seat with no obvious signs of damage can be dangerously compromised, so a visual inspection is not enough to determine if a replacement is called from after a collision. Instead, parents should heed the recommendations found in car seat owner’s manuals or follow the NHTSA guidelines if they do not have an owner’s manual.