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How to Protect Your Child After A Car Accident

It’s never fun planning for your worst nightmare, but it can make an instrumental difference when forced to act fast under pressure. Serious car crashes can emit a range of emotions from shock and adrenaline to anger and irrational thinking. But when our children are also in the car, these emotions are instantly intensified, and rightfully so. More than 120,000 children, ages 12 and younger, were injured in a traffic collision in 2014.

Checking on Your Child Immediately After A Car Accident

While your first parental instinct is to check on your child, your first priority should be preventing a secondary crash. After a fender bender, safely pull the car to the side of the road. Staying in the middle of busy lanes or near turns greatly increases your risk of being hit again. For severe accidents, call 911 and follow their instructions while you wait for police and EMTs to arrive.

Once in a safer position, you can check on your child. However, most experts suggest waiting on EMTs to pick up or move a child in a car seat. This is arguably the hardest piece of advice for parents, but improperly moving a child can worsen any and all injuries.

As babies and toddlers continue to grow, their necks remain a flexible and fragile area. Unfortunately, this flexibility makes children more vulnerable to spinal cord injuries, especially in car accidents. It’s best to remain overly cautious as children may not be able to effectively communicate if and where they feel pain.

Children Are More Susceptible to Certain Injuries

While you wait for the EMTs, carefully monitor your child for injury symptoms including heavy or abnormal breathing, bleeding from the mouth or nose, and abnormal speech. Even if you see no initial signs of pain, always allow the medical experts to do an examination (for you and your child).

After your child receives care from an emergency room doctor, request all medical records be sent to your pediatrician. These documents will be important information should any injuries develop later on and for overall health monitoring. Give the pediatrician a few days to review them and schedule a follow up appointment to ensure there’s no delayed onset of injuries.

If your child does not see an ER doctor, schedule the earliest available appointment with your pediatrician. Explain the crash circumstances and any differing behavior you’ve noticed since the crash. Follow the pediatrician’s instructions from there.

Symptoms to Watch for After A Car Crash

If you have been involved in a car accident, even one that seems minor on the surface, you need to be aware that injures might have occurred and yet will not exhibit symptoms for some time. You must seek a medical evaluation after a car accident if you think you or your children are experiencing any symptoms of injury. There are some serious types of car accident injuries that may not exhibit symptoms until a period of time lapses.

Do Not Minimize Headaches

If you develop a headache two or three days after a car accident, you need to consider it a warning sign that you have been injured. A headache that develops after a couple of days passes from the occurrence of a car accident can be a sign of concussion, another type of head injury, neck injury (including whiplash), or even a blood clot.

Back Pain

If back pain develops sometime after an automobile collision, you may have sustained an injury to the muscles, ligaments, or nerves in your back. You may also suffer from injury to your vertebrae. If the pain goes into your arms or legs, you should consider seeing an orthopedic doctor. Some spine injuries cannot be detected by x-rays from the emergency room and require more sophisticated tests such as CT scans or an MRI to diagnose the problem.

Abdominal Swelling, Bloating, or Pain

If you find yourself suffering from swelling or bloating around your midsection, with or without accompanying pain, you may have sustained internal injuries. You may be experiencing internal bleeding as a result of these types of injuries. You may also experience dizziness and fainting. This can be a truly life-threatening situation which requires immediate medical attention.

Alterations in Physical Function, Personality, or Emotions

The symptoms of traumatic brain injury are not always readily apparent. If after some time following the car accident you find yourself suffering from issues with certain physical functions, if others around you note changes in your personality, if your emotions seem “out of whack,” you may have sustained a traumatic brain injury.

Do I Need to Replace My Child’s Car Seat After an Accident?

If a crash has the power to bend a car’s steel frame, it certainly has potential to damage a plastic car seat. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends replacing car seats and boosters after a moderate and severe accident, while seats after minor accidents should be inspected on a case-by-case basis.

According to the NHTSA, a minor accident is when ALL of the below occur:

  • The vehicle was able to be driven away from the crash scene
  • The door(s) closest to the car seat suffered no damage
  • No passengers suffered injuries
  • No airbags deployed
  • No visible damage to the car seat

Seats should be replaced even if your child was not in the seat at the time of the accident. Parents should follow the manufacturer’s instructions for further advice on replacements. If you no longer have the instructions, visit the company’s website for a downloadable version or call customer service.

What If I Can’t Afford a New Car Seat?

While you’ll likely have to front the costs of a new seat, many insurance companies will reimburse the full price with proof of purchase. But parents don’t have to buy the same make and model, unless otherwise stated in the insurance policy, of car seat or booster—ideal for children outgrowing their current size.

Take this “opportunity” to research the type of seat your child now needs. In general, infants and toddlers should sit in rear-facing car seats, preschoolers can sit in forward-facing seats with a harness, and school-aged children may sit in booster seats depending on their height and weight. You can also register your new seat through the NHTSA to receive any safety updates like notices or recalls from the manufacturer.

After physically recouping, replacing the car seat should be your first priority. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death in children. However, car seats decrease mortality rates by 71 percent for children under one and reduce injury by 54 percent in children ages one through four. Booster seats decrease risk of injury by 45 percent, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Car crashes are always frustrating but can be terrifying when children are in the car. Remember to always buckle in young kids before a trip and remain as calm as possible, following these safety tips, immediately after a crash.

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