This week, September 19th through 24th, is Child Passenger Safety Week. It is a time to raise awareness about children, and how best to keep them safe while they are riding in a vehicle. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), car crashes are the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 13 years old. However, many of these vehicle-related deaths can prevented by the proper use of children’s car seats, boosters, and seat belts. Part of that “proper use” is understanding whether you should replace your child’s car or booster seat, following a collision.
In previous years, the NHTSA recommended replacing all child restraints, whenever those items were involved in a collision, no matter the severity of the crash. The NHTSA recently revised its recommendations, in an attempt to reduce the number of children riding unprotected in vehicles while their parents or guardians were waiting to replace the car seat. Currently, the recommendations are that “car seats be replaced following a moderate or severe crash, in order to ensure a continued high level of crash protection for child passengers. Car seats do not automatically need to be replaced following a minor crash.”
While the NHTSA’s revised recommendations are designed to keep children from riding without any form of safety or booster seat, these recommendations do create additional issues. The first is that words such as “mild,” “moderate,” and “severe” are highly subjective – and who exactly decides this? How can a person tell whether the collision was severe enough that the car seat, under NHTSA recommendations, should be replaced? What if a person underestimates the collision, and the child safety seat is damaged without them realizing it? The second issue is that the NHTSA recommendations do not match the manufacturer recommendations, which could lead to later problems with insurance. Even though the NHTSA recommends replacing child seats after a moderate or severe collision, many car seat manufacturers base their product liability or warranty on any involvement in a collision. Popular car seat manufacturer Graco, for example, provides this limited warranty language: “this limited warranty does not cover claims resulting from misuse, failure to follow the instructions on installation, maintenance and use, abuse, alternation, involvement in an accident, and normal wear and tear.” (Source: http://www.gracobaby.com/customerservice/pages/limitedwarranty.aspx). So, while the NHTSA advises that car seat replacement is conditional – under the manufacturer’s specifications, the car seat warranty could be voided if involved in any accident. (For questions about car seat warranties, you can check the manual that came with the car seat, or contact the manufacturer directly).
It is also important to note that a child’s safety seat or booster seat should be replaced even if the child was not in the seat at the time of the collision. When two or more vehicles collide, the forces are extreme. The child car seat will absorb some of those forces, even if the child is not in the car at the time. Think about it this way: if the force of the crash is enough to bend the car’s steel frame, then it is absolutely enough to damage the plastic components in a child’s safety seat. Car seats, like bicycle helmets, are designed to handle one major hit, and then must be replaced.
Concerning the replacement of child car seats, auto insurance companies may pay to replace those seats following a collision. If the other party is at fault for the crash, and/or you have full insurance coverage, then that likelihood of payment is higher. It really depends on your specific auto insurance policy and your agreement with your insurance company.
For more advice on replacing child seats after a collision, or if you need help with a personal injury claim, give The Gore Law Firm a call today at (404) 436-1529.