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History of the Car Seat

Car seats have become such an important part of parenting culture – we can go from car, to stroller, to the house with our little ones snapped safely inside. Parents today research car seat options extensively and take extra care to get their car seats checked for proper installation. But less than 30 years ago, car seats weren’t required for children. It was estimated that by 1984, only half of all children under the age of four were riding in car seats.

Early car seats were created to contain children in the car rather than protect them during a crash. Until the 1960′s car seats were mainly designed so that children could look out the window and parents could prevent the child from moving about the car. In the 1960′s an impact protection car seat was finally designed, but due to a lack on information on the subject, the general public did not embrace the notion of children’s car seats for safety.

It wasn’t until the mid ’70s that advocacy for children’s car safety finally began to make an impact and people began to think seriously about using car seats and buckling in their children. Even as a child born in the early 80′s I have distinct memories of  laying down in the back seats of our van without being buckled in. There are home videos of my brother and I as small children (maybe 3 and 4) riding in the backseat in seat belts but not in booster seats. Several others I’ve talked with have shared stories of riding on the center console between the front seats of their parent’s cars, playing in the backseat of the station wagon unharnessed and one even slept in the foot of her parent’s car when she was a small infant.

I’m constantly checking to ensure that my children’s harnesses are secure and snug against them, so it’s a bit mind boggling to think that at one time children went without any sort of car seats or restraints at all. I dug up some examples of car seats through the years and it’s interesting to see the progression and added safety features that came with each decade.  What are your memories regarding car seats? Do you remember your parents buckling you up?

See how car seats have changed over the years:

The 1940s 1 of 8
This early car "booster" seat was more focused on allowing children to look out the window than keeping them safe.
The 1950s 2 of 8
Not much had improved in ten years — car seat designers were most interested in keeping children from moving around in the car than protecting them during collisions.
The 1960s 3 of 8
This mid '60s carseat looks a whole lot like my favorite beach chair. Notice it's not even secured to the seat — I can imagine a child toppling over at the first sharp turn.
The 1960s 4 of 8
Here's another '60s model. I'm seriously cringing thinking about putting a child in these things!
The 1970s 5 of 8
A step in the right direction — at least they've begun to add head protection. I still don't see any obvious belts or retraints but it's a big improvement over the the '60s models
1980s Convertible Car Seat Comparison 6 of 8
This is a comparison of a 1980s convertible carseat and a modern day one. Again, safety measures had improved in leaps and bounds over the past decade — safety belts, head protection, etc — but they still have a large plastic bar in the front that looks far from safe.
1980s Infant Car Seat Comparison 7 of 8
This comparison of a 1980s carseat and a modern day model are drastic. The 1980s model looks bare bones and not very supportive of a small infants delicate body.
The 1990s 8 of 8
I'm glad that car seats no longer look as if they are interchangeable with the seats off a roller coaster. What is up with that big T-bar in the front?

Additional history of car seat info available here. Photo credits:  1940s 1950s 1960s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s

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