'Baby on Board' Sign: History, Meaning, And Humor Behind The Decal

Everything You’d Ever Want To Know About The Iconic ‘Baby On Board’ Sign

October 26, 2020 Updated February 18, 2021

baby on board
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A fixture of station wagons and minivans across North America, the bright yellow diamond-shaped “Baby on Board” sign has been everything from a safety precaution, to a myth, to a funny joke and part of pop culture since it was invented in 1984. Hypothetically, if you were born on or after that year, you could have gone from the baby that was on board, to the mom somewhat ironically making a baby joke in the rear window of your SUV. But where did these signs come from? And why were they developed? You may have already heard that it has a dark origin story, but don’t worry: that one’s just a myth. Here’s what you need to know about the “Baby on Board” signs.

The Myth Behind “Baby on Board” Stickers

If you’ve heard one thing about the “Baby on Board” signs and stickers (other than the jokes), it’s probably the horrific history of the car accessory. There are several variations on the legend, but the general gist is that the sign was created after a gruesome car wreck that left all passengers dead, including an infant. But first responders weren’t aware there was a baby on board, and the child was found at some point later on. The sign was developed as a way to let emergency workers know about any tiny passengers.

Well, let us (and Snopes.com) set the record straight: That is absolutely untrue. Here’s the real story.

The Actual History and Meaning

The real origin story is nowhere near as traumatic as that. In 1984, Michael Lerner drove his 18-month-old nephew home. He realized that he was driving more carefully (and therefore slowly) than usual, and his fellow drivers were getting annoyed. “People were tailgating me and cutting me off,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “For the first time, I felt like a parent feels when they have a kid in the car.”

And that’s pretty much it. Lerner partnered with a couple who had already been successfully selling the sign and founded “Safety 1st,” a company that made the “Baby on Board” sign and other child safety products. Ultimately, the sign’s meaning and purpose are simple. It serves as a visual cue to other drivers to be cautious, especially when driving behind a vehicle with that sticker.

Its Place in Pop Culture

Almost as soon as “Baby on Board” signs became an ’80s fad, they also became an ’80s joke, and to a certain extent, remain that way today. Initially, the humor came in the form of other “safety” signs, including: “Baby Driving,” “Warning: Baby is Closer Than it Appears,” and “Baby Carries No Cash.” From there, there were plenty of variations on the original, like: “Baby, I’m Bored,” “Mother-in-Law In Trunk,” and “Rottweiler On Board.” According to Snopes, a 1986 survey conducted in the Bronx found that the parody “Baby on Board” signs outnumbered the real ones by a margin of five to one.

Others found humor in the presumption made by the parents of the baby that, without the sign, other drivers would just plow right into them. As if people were driving along, looking for a vehicle to get into a crash with, had their eyes on a particular car, but then changed their plans after they saw the “Baby on Board” sticker. It’s unclear who first made this funny observation, but comedian Michael Ian Black does bring it up in an episode of VH1’s show I Love the ’80s.

The sign’s place in pop culture was cemented in 1993, when an episode of “The Simpsons” featured a song called “Baby on Board” that Homer Simpson supposedly wrote in 1985 when Marge Simpson purchased one of the signs. The lyrics are adorable enough to put a smile on your face:

“Baby on board, how I’ve adored
That sign on my car’s windowpane
The bounce in my step, loaded with pep
Cause I’m driving in the carpool lane
Call me a square, friend I don’t care
That little yellow sign can’t be ignored
I’m telling you it’s mighty nice, each trip’s a trip to paradise
With my baby on board.”

Custom “Baby on Board” Sign

The “Baby on Board” sign has taken on a life of its own. It means many things to different people, so get creative and make yours personal to you.

We’ve all grown accustomed to the yellow traffic sign with the classic words labeled on front, but you can get one that’ll fit your family. With the right one, you and your baby will be like the coolest (and safest) duo in the carpool lane. So don’t be afraid to lose the yellow square and get one with a chubby baby in sunglasses instead.

Some sites let you put Disney or cartoon characters on the label, too. You can pick the size and the material it’s made of, like PVC or PVC 4C printed with a suction cup. Some sites even let you change the color.

Baby Car Safety Tips 

As a driver and mother, you can’t control the dangers of the outside world, but you can control what you do to keep your little one safe. 

  • Before pulling away from the curb, look back at your baby to make sure they’re in a comfortable and safe position. It’s always smart to take one last look at your babe before putting the car in motion. 
  • Before rolling up the windows, look back at your little one to ensure they’re not tossing something out or that their fingers or arms aren’t in the way. 
  • Make sure your little one is in the proper age and size-appropriate car seat. The wrong-sized car seat won’t properly protect them if you get into an accident. 
  • If your children frequent your car, avoid smoking in the vehicle. 
  • Make sure your child’s car seat is rear-facing until they’re at least two years old. Try to keep your kiddo rear-facing for as long as you can because, in the event of a crash, this position better supports their head, neck, and spine.
  • Avoid snacking in the car. We know this is a hard one, mama. You’re always on the go, and sometimes your children have to grab a meal in the car. We get it. However, things can go south if your child chokes on their snacks while you’re driving. So if you can, avoid giving your baby food in the car. It’ll give you one less thing to worry about and keep the car clean.