Should I still use my child's car seat after I've been in an accident?

Author: Sandra S. Gregor, Fredericksburg, VA Personal Injury Attorney

Virginia law requires child safety seats and booster seats for all children until they reach eight years old.[1] This requirement is based on age alone – not height or weight. If you fail to secure your child in a safety seat, you could face a $50 civil penalty, which could increase to up to $500 if you violate the law a second or subsequent time, on different dates.[2]

Car Seat Requirements as Your Child Grows

Child in Car Seat

With these requirements, you may have to buy several different car seats over the course of your children’s lives. When they are very young – two years and under – children should be in rear-facing car seats in the back seat. Once they are two years old or have outgrown the rear-facing weight or height limit for their particular child safety seat, children should use a forward facing child safety seat with a harness. It is recommended that children use a forward facing child safety seat for as long as possible – up to the highest weight or height allowed by the manufacturer of the car seat. If your child outgrows the weight and height requirements before age eight, however, your child may require a booster seat. You are not legally required to have children over the age of eight in a booster seat; however, it is recommended to keep eight to twelve year old children in a booster seat until they are big enough to fit in a seat belt properly. [3]

The cost for these child safety seats and booster seats can get quite expensive – particularly if you have more than one child under the age of eight. So, after a car accident, you may want to hold on to these safety seats rather than buy new ones. However, the impact of a crash may cause damage to your safety seats that you are unable to see and could prevent the seat from properly protecting your children in future accidents.

How to Determine When to Replace a Car Seat

As a general rule, you should replace your car seats if you are involved in a moderate to severe car accident.

If you are in a minor car accident,  the car seats may still be safe to use. A car accident is minor according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) if all the following are true:

  • The vehicle could be driven away from the crash.
  • The vehicle door closest to the safety seat was not damaged.
  • No one in the vehicle was injured.
  • The air bags did not deploy.
  • You can't see any damage to the safety seat.[4]

If the accident in which you were involved does not meet all of these guidelines, you should replace your child’s car seat. There is no reason to take a chance when it comes to your children’s safety.

 About the Author: Sandy Gregor is a trial attorney with 15 years of courtroom experience. She was listed as a "Rising Star" by Virginia Super Lawyers Magazine for 3  years and is a member of the Virginia Womens Attorney Association. Sandy's practice includes car accident litigation, wrongful death litigation, and premises liability.

[1] Va. Code §46.2-1095.

[2] Va. Code §46.2-1098.

[4] See id.

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