When looking for a new family vehicle there are some major car buying dos and don’ts to consider and for many people, particularly parents, one of the most important features they look for is safety. But children’s safety wasn’t always such a high priority.
The earliest versions of what could be considered car seats were simply burlap sacks with a drawstring that hung over the headrest in order to lift the child and allow them to look out of the window, whilst keeping them from moving around inside the car.
1933 saw the Bunny Bear Company produce a booster seat that would prop up backseat riders enabling the parents to keep a closer eye on them.
The disregard for children’s safety is not really surprising as passenger safety in general was not considered in the early days of driving – the 3-point seat belt, that we all know today, wasn’t available in cars until 1959!
It was not until 1962 that people first considered designing car seats with possible safety features. Briton Jean Ames invented a rear facing seat with the Y-strap we see in similar models these days and Len Rivkin designed a sturdier metal framed car seat – as opposed to canvas sacks that had been used previously.
By 1968 car manufacturers started getting involved with this innovation and finally began developing car seats for crash protection. Ford and General Motors were some of the first manufacturers to do this, introducing the Tot-Guard and the Love Seat for Toddlers.
1971 was when we first saw regulations come into place and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration adopted the first federal standards. These regulations required the use of a safety belt to hold the car seat in place and a harness to hold the child in the seat.
The first state laws came into place in Tennessee in 1979 and took a further 6 years before all states had such laws. Despite these laws being in place, it is estimated that only around 80% of children used a car seat in 1987.
States have routinely increased requirements for car seats and experts are always learning of better ways to protect children in the car.
The latch system was introduced into vehicles and a new federal regulation required all cars to include this system by 2003 – these are lower anchors and top tether anchor points to ease the install and stability of car seats.
These days, car seats have to meet strict federal crash test regulations and child restraints come with expiration dates to ensure the reliability of the equipment. Parents do extensive research on car seat options and even have the option to have their seats checked for proper installation by a Child Passenger Safety Technician.
However, we still do not have 100% usage for car seats and recent statistics show that more than 57% of deaths for children aged 0-15 were because the child was unrestrained! It is also estimated that around 75% of the car seats that are in use are not actually used correctly!