When I was growing up in the ’70s, I specifically remember my two younger sisters sitting in a plastic white car seat up until the age of 2 or so. One day, I decided I wanted to party, and I let one of them out while my mother was driving in heavy traffic on a four-lane highway. It was an exciting time for all involved. Apparently they weren’t that hard to unbuckle since I was only 4 and wasn’t in a car seat myself. What a time to be alive!
It certainly wasn’t a thing back in those days to get your kid tightly fastened into a rear-facing newborn seat, making sure that your installation was reviewed by a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician.
Hell, in those days, you didn’t have to put your child in a car seat at all. I remember my mother breastfeeding my younger sister while my father was driving down a long, winding road.
While I am an advocate for proper car seat installation, adhering to the current guidelines, and following the advice of certified, trained professionals and safety experts, it is certainly interesting to look back on how things have evolved. And also wonder how the hell we survived to tell the tale.
My parents did not have the luxury of putting a newborn into a baby seat, carrying it to the car, snapping it in place, and then hooking it up to a stroller to take a walk in the park like the parents of today. Can you imagine having to risk waking up your small baby every time you got out of the car and had to transfer them? We are spoiled — we can just grab the handle and move our kids from location to location without disturbing them.
It only became law that you had to have your child buckled in at all times while in a moving vehicle less than 30 years ago.
Car seats were first invented in the 1930s as a way to keep your child from rolling around like a watermelon in the back of the car. Safety was not the main concern then; keeping your child out from under the steering wheel and from physically harassing you while driving, or propping them up to give them a view out the window, was the main objective here.
It wasn’t until the ’60s that you could actually utilize seat belts to hold the seat into place, thanks to Leonard Rivkin, a man from Denver, Colorado.
In 1968, the Ford Motor Company invited the “Tot Guard” seat which was a plastic seat resembling something I’ve seen on a jungle gym, complete with padding on the front to protect a child’s head if there was an accident.
In the ’70s came an actual buckle to hold the child down in the seat. It was called a love seat and was brought to us by General Motors.
In the mid-’80s, a few more rules were implemented, and kids under a certain age were required by law to be in a car seat while the vehicle was in motion.
In the ’90s, the latch system was finally introduced (probably so shitty little kids like me couldn’t unbuckle their brother or sister while their parents were sweating in traffic).
And today, car seats come with many different features and meet strict safety regulations, as they should. I honestly don’t know how the generations before us coped with young kids bouncing all over the damn car and poking things in their ears while they were trying to get to their destination.
I can barely concentrate with all my kids strapped down. The arguing, thousands of questions, and constantly wanting snacks is enough to take me to my bad place and lose my concentration. I literally cannot imagine having moving bodies around me while trying to drive. The thought alone terrifies me.
Today, we are even lucky enough to have car seats for our furry family members. Just look at how happy Bernard is in his little animal-friendly safety seat.
Things are always evolving, and we will likely look back at the car seats of today and gasp in horror at some point too. When we know better, we do better and all that, but I really can’t help but wonder how so many of us survived the days of half-assed car seats. Or worse, no car seats at all.