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After an accident, should I replace our car seat?
Q: We recently had a minor car accident. Fortunately, everyone was OK. I was wearing my seat belt, and my 2-year-old son was in his car seat in the backseat. I was trying to figure out whether we could still use the car seat. I read that it's safest to get a new seat after an accident. But I just heard on the news that the recommendation was changing. What should I do?
A: Gina, it's good that you were wearing your seat belt and your son was in his car seat in the back seat, which is the safest place.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently announced a change in the recommendation on using car seats involved in a car crash. Previously, NHTSA recommended that you replace all car seats involved in car crashes, even minor ones, because you couldn't be sure whether there was any damage to the seat. However, this was obviously expensive for parents. NHTSA decided to change the recommendation after finding that car seats generally remain safe after minor accidents.

The new recommendation is that, after a minor car crash, parents should use their own judgment in deciding whether or not their car seat was damaged and needs to be replaced. (After a severe crash, the car seat should always be replaced.)

NHTSA advises parents to use the following criteria to help decide whether the car crash could be considered minor, and whether the car seat is undamaged:
  • The vehicle could be driven away from the crash scene.
  • The vehicle door nearest the car seat was not damaged.
  • No one in the vehicle was injured.
  • The air bags (if any) did not deploy.
  • When you carefully inspect the car seat, including under the seat padding, you do not see any cracks or deformities that might have been caused by the crash.

If any of the above criteria are not met, or if you are unsure whether the car seat was damaged, contact your car insurance company about its policy regarding replacing car seats.

For more information, visit www.nhtsa.gov.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician