The General History of Car Seats
When you ponder the history of car seats and look at the dates of when advances actually took place from the creation to acceptance and from the regulation to the legal requirement of usage, you may wonder if it’s because of critics that things took so long.
There always seems to be critics especially when innovations are first developed.
While originally, “child seats” started out as nothing more than burlap sacks with a drawstring that hung over the headrest on the passenger’s seat. Later in 1933, Bunny Bear Company produced a seat that was basically booster seats, propping backseat riders up so parents could keep an eye them. In the 40s, manufacturers released canvas seats on a metal frame that attached to the car’s front seat so the child could get a better view out the windshield.
Early car seats were designed simply to lift the child to allow him to look out the window and to keep the child more or less in one spot in the car. This is really not surprising. After all, occupant safety wasn’t in top form in the early days of automobiles. It wasn’t until 1959 that a 3-point seat belt (lap-shoulder belt) was even available in cars.
It took 30 some years before car seats were considered as possible safety devices.
In 1962 two gentlemen designed car seats with the idea of safety in mind. Briton Jean Ames designed a rear-facing seat that featured a Y-strap, similar to today’s models, and American Len Rivkin designed a seat of metal framing into which a child was buckled.
By 1968 auto manufacturers were getting into the game with the first car seats designed for crash protection. Ford developed the Tot-Guard and General Motors developed the Love Seat for Toddlers, followed quickly by the GM Infant Love Seat (the first rear-facing only restraint). Then there came the Bobby Mac convertible seat.
It took 9 years from the innovation of safety conscious car seats to the beginning of regulations for them.
In 1971 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration adopts the first federal standards, FMVSS213. At the time requirements did not include crash tests but did require use of a safety belt to hold the car seat into the vehicle and a harness to hold the child in the car.
It took 17 years from innovation and 8 years from preliminary regulations to the first state law.
1979 saw the first child restraint law in Tennessee.
It took another 6 years until all the states had laws.
All states have a law by 1985. But even in 1987 only 80% of children use a car seat. We get that innovation precedes regulation, after all things have to be invented before anyone can make up rules about them. And it takes time to gather a committee and create criteria and discuss it and discuss it some more and send to other people to discuss before something is written which probably has to be handed to someone else discuss and finally to someone else to approve. (That’s the way it seems anyway.)
Why has usage taken so long?
Car seats were obviously around when I was a child, not that I recall ever being in one. I spent a good part of my childhood rolling around the back of a van in a customized bed/table area (the table lowered to make a bed area, great for camping). Of course there was no legal requirement yet, not until I was closer to “booster age”.
These days, parents do exhaustive research on car seat options. And many go the extra step of getting their car seats checked for proper installation by a Child Passenger Safety Technician, something unheard of even 25 years ago (the technician program was implemented in 1997).
But even now we don’t have 100% usage.
While some crashes are unsurvivable, in recent year’s statistics more than 57% of deaths for children 0-15 were because the child was unrestrained. If (and there’s really no question here) they are so wonderful for keeping our kids safe, why isn’t there 100% usage now and why did it take so long to even get this far? Is it because of critics? Was there — and does there remain — some general sentiment that it’s not really needed, that it’s not really safer like all of us experts say?
Correct usage is even lower as still about 75% of car seats are used incorrectly. But things continue to improve with new standards being developed and innovative new products, including the RideSafer Travel Vest.
Most states have implemented laws to keep older children safe as well.
And revolutionary products, like the Tummy Shield, are being developed to protect even younger children, yes younger, as in unborn babies. There is more to come in child passenger safety in a time of faster and faster technological developments for both car seats and vehicles. It’s exciting to see.
We want to know, have you ever questioned (even just once) the necessity of car seats? Share your comments below.
By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004
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