Safe in the Seat

What Happens in a Car Crash?

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: You get into an accident with your children in the car. Whether it’s a fender bender or a rollover crash, any collision leaves you shaken and vulnerable. You may be asking yourself: “What could have happened?” Heck, you may not even know what did happen. 

Of course, two cars struck each other, but what happens to you and your kids in an accident? Today, we’re breaking down the effects of collisions on our bodies. Plus, we’ll discuss what to do after an accident, so you can stay calm and cool. Buckle up, here we go:

What Happens in a Car Crash 

Your vehicle collides with an object. 

First, here’s the obvious. In a car crash, your vehicle collides with something. It might be another vehicle, a light pole, a fence—whatever. This collision takes your speedy vehicle and jerks it to a sudden and painful halt. In this crash, your vehicle experiences damage. 

Airbags deploy to protect your body. 

The second your car strikes the object, the airbags will deploy in a timeframe of 1/20th of a second. These airbags will create a cushion between you and broken fiberglass, twisted metal, and other hard objects. 

Your body collides with the vehicle. 

Then, in a matter of millisecond, your body comes in contact with the vehicle, airbag, and seatbelt. This is where you and your passengers experience a lot of your visible injuries. Gashes, bruises, broken bones, and more come from your body striking parts of the car.

The seatbelt keeps you secure and in the vehicle. 

If you’re wearing a seatbelt, that thing will keep your body contained in your seat, instead of pingponging around the interior. Your arms, head, and legs may still strike the vehicle, but you’ll be much better protected from lethal injuries, which are the ones to worry about. We can take care of a few broken bones! 

Your organs collide with your body. 

Once your body slams to a halt like the car, your organs smash into the inside of your body. This is where internal injuries come from in an accident, and these internal injuries — including bleeding, damage to your abdominal organs, and more — can be extremely serious. And since they’re internal, these injuries might not be obvious right away, especially in the adrenaline rush that you might feel in the moments after a collision.

A rear-facing car seat cradles the baby’s delicate body from all sides. 

And, what about the children? They experience the same vehicle/body/organ collisions as you do. However, a rear facing car seat cradles their fragile bodies and protects them much better than a seatbelt. 

While you’re thrown forward against your seatbelt during a collision, your rear facing backseat passengers are also forced towards the front of the vehicle — but since they’re facing backwards, their bodies are pushed backwards into the protective shell of their car seat. The car seat keeps their head in line with the rest of their body, which helps protect their developing necks from devastating injuries. The harness straps keep them safely contained within the protective shell of the car seat, and the shell itself is designed to absorb crash forces and protect your little one from direct impacts — whether the collision occurs at the front, side, or rear of the car.

A front-facing car seat keeps a child secure and protected from side-impact.

A front-facing car seat will still do a great deal to protect your child in a crash. When forward facing, a child’s head, arms, and legs will be thrown forward during a crash, rather than cradled against a supportive car seat shell — which is a huge reason that we recommend rear facing as long as possible — but their 5-point harness helps distribute those crash forces across the strongest points of your child’s body and hold your child in their seat so that they ideally don’t hit any interior vehicle surfaces.

And again, the shell of the car seat is specially engineered to absorb some of the forces that would otherwise get passed on to your child’s body! But crash forces can be so intense that there is still a lot of forward movement, even when your child is tightly buckled, so it’s important to make sure that your car seat is installed tightly and that the top tether is being used.

A booster seat ensures the seatbelt works properly for a child.

If your child is in a booster seat, then the vehicle seatbelt is what will keep them safe during a crash. But seatbelts are set up to fit adult bodies, so that booster seat is absolutely critical to make sure the seatbelt fits safely! In a booster, the lap belt should fit snug and low across a child’s hips, not high up on the belly; and the shoulder belt should be centered on the child’s shoulder — not too close to the neck, but not towards the outside of their shoulder where it might slip off, either. When all these boxes are checked, the seatbelt is positioned on the strongest parts of the child’s body and will lock into place during a crash, keeping your big kid secure!

That graduation from harness to booster seat feels like a big step, and it is! For the first time, your child won’t have a tight harness keeping their body in position, so a booster rider has more responsibility for their own safety. But the good news is that — as long as your child meets their seat requirements and is mature enough to sit properly at all times — booster seats provide excellent protection in a crash.

In this sample lesson from our Infant Course, you will learn why car seats and their proper use are so critical to keeping kids safe. Want to learn how to keep your child safe on every ride? Check out our Infant Course or Convertible Course on the how-tos of installation, harnessing, and troubleshooting.

What Happens in a Car Crash

What to do After a Car Crash

After you’ve been in a crash, what should you do? We’ve created a step-by-step guide for you to review. Make this your emergency action plan and stay calm in this stressful situation! Here’s what to do after a car crash: 

Check for injuries and safety.  

Examine yourself and the passengers in the car to see if there are any visible injuries. Additionally, ensure that remaining in the vehicle is safe. There is increased danger if the car may start on fire or get struck by another vehicle. If you’re not safe, get out of there!

Leave the children in their seats if possible. 

If you determine the scene is safe, try to keep the children in the car seats. They may have injuries you can’t see and injuries they can’t communicate. Moving them may make it worse and also exposes them to danger if you’re stuck on an active roadway. Keep them secured and comfort them while you wait for the authorities. 

Get the Car Seat Cheat Sheet. Print, cut out, and fill in! Then attach these stickers to your child’s seat in a spot that isn’t covering any safety information, labels, or indicators. The emergency information could be helpful in a crash if someone is unresponsive.

Call 911. 

Next, call 911. Tell them the details of your situation and your approximate location. Then, you simply wait. We say “simply,” but calling the police and waiting for an ambulance to come can be really stressful! Try to stay calm, and recall as much as you can for the police report. 

Treat injuries the best you can with the guidance of the 911 operator.

If there are threatening injuries like an unconscious person or excessive bleeding, do what you can to mend the wounds. Whether you’re doing CPR or making a quick tourniquet, the 911 operator should be able to guide you through the process. 

Make sure your car is visible to other drivers.

Once everyone is conscious and/or stable, make sure the scene of the accident is visible to other drivers and the authorities. Use orange traffic cones and your hazard lights, so others can get over and keep driving. 

Exchange information and document the accident. 

Talk with the other person(s) in the accident and exchange contact information, insurance information, and license plate numbers. You’ll need this from all vehicles involved. Exchanging personal information will protect you legally post crash. 

Seek treatment for injuries. 

If the ambulance offers care for you and your children, TAKE IT. Even if you think everyone is fine, go to the hospital and get checked out. There could be a lot going on beneath the surface. The adrenaline might be preventing all of you from really feeling your injuries.

Be on the lookout for any missed injuries. 

For the next few weeks leading up to the next step, keep an eye out for any missed injuries in your kiddos. Look for signs of conscious, internal injuries, and even emotional trauma. If you notice anything, get them to the doctor right away. 

Follow-up with your pediatrician about the accident. 

After the initial hospital visit, it’s important to have a follow-up with your pediatrician. They’ll investigate again and ensure there are no other issues. This will give you peace of mind that your child truly is okay, even when the shock of the event has worn off. 

Replace the car seat. 

Chances are, the car seat will need to be replaced. Trash or recycle your current car seat and buy a new one. If you’re unsure of where to start, try one of our buying kits. These programs are specially designed to give you a personalized car seat recommendation. 

Repair the vehicle.

If you’re driving your children around in this car, you want it to be in tip-top shape. Because of that, ensure your car is fully repaired before driving it again. It’s already been weakened and stress-tested once. You definitely don’t want to do it again while the car’s integrity is questionable. 

What to do With a Car Seat After an Accident 

Assess your accident. 

First, assess how much damage was done to your vehicle. Did the airbags deploy? Did the car rollover? Or, was it just a minor crash? Take mental note of the severity of the crash based on your assessment!

Determine if your car seat needs to be replaced. 


First, check your car seat’s manual. The car seat manufacturer’s crash replacement policy is usually spelled out in there. If you can’t find the information in your manual, or if you have questions about the policy, you can call the customer service line for the car seat brand. Some car seat manufacturers require you to replace the car seat after any collision, even a minor fender bender, just to be safe. Other car seats may be usable after some specific types of minor crashes. Whatever the rule for your seats, it applies whether your child was in the car seat during the crash or not.

Even if you don’t think the crash was that serious, it’s so important to replace your car seat if the manufacturer requires it. Even if there is no visible damage, there could be plenty of wear and tear from the accident below the surface. The car seat held up in this accident, but it may not hold up in the next!

Make an insurance claim. 

Now, it’s time to call your insurance company and start the claim process. For the car seat and other personal property in the car, you’ll actually call your homeowner’s insurance provider. They’ll take care of the replacement cost to get a new car seat! 

Get a new car seat if necessary. 

If you do need a new car seat, replace it right away. Never continue to use a seat after an accident, even just for a few trips. Get a seat right away! Don’t wait for a sale or for that insurance check.

If you’re overwhelmed by all the choices, remember we have buying kits to help you find the right fit. You can also check out our blog posts on finding the best seat for your infant, toddler, and/or child

Recycle the old car seat. 

Never donate or sell your damaged car seat. If it’s not safe enough for your child, it’s not safe enough for someone else’s either! We recommend recycling car seats during Target’s twice-annual car seat trade-in event. You take an old car seat into the store, they dispose of it for you, and you get 20% off another baby purchase. It’s a great deal!

A car crash can do a lot of damage, make sure you take the right post-accident steps to keep your family safe. 

Getting in an accident is scary, but having your child in a car seat makes them 82% safer in any accident. Wow! Ensuring you have the right car seat fit for your child, ensuring the car seat is properly installed, and ensuring your child is correctly buckled each time you enter the car is the best way to keep them safe. 

Plus, confirming everything is correct with the car seat gives you peace of mind that you’re doing everything you can to protect your children. If you want to know more car seat safety tips and tricks, check out our blog and join us on Instagram and YouTube! We’d love to show you the ropes and keep your child safe in their seat.

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