Car seats then and now: from the 1940s to the present
As technological advances zoom forward over the course of our lifetime, every familiar product is transformed into something sleeker, more efficient, and more effective: for instance, could we have imagined in 1990 what the humble telephone would turn into? I’m still kind of amazed. Ironically, I almost never actually use my phone to call anyone (I prefer texting), but today I gave my mom a quick call to ask her what car seats were like when I was born, in 1979. With her help and some internet resources: here’s a quick summary of how car seats have changed over my lifetime (and probably yours)!
Prior to the 1960s, car seats were mostly designed to keep kids contained in the car, and help them see out the window. However, by the 1960s, Physicians for Automotive Safety were advocating for real protection for kids in the car, and in 1968, the Ford Tot-Guard and General Motors Love Seat were created. One of the earliest seats, the Bobby Mac convertible seat, could be used rear-facing, but rear-facing wasn’t the industry standard at the time; at the very least, my mom confirmed that I always rode forward-facing.
By the time I came on the scene, seat belts were required to hold car seats into the vehicle, a harness was required to hold kids in place, early crash-test procedures were established, and it was just beginning to be known that you absolutely can’t keep a child in your lap safe in the case of a collision (all things that seem like common sense now!). The first child passenger safety law requiring car seats had been passed in 1978 in Tennessee, but not all states required car seats until 1985.
My mom says that they brought me home from the hospital in a car seat (good!), and it was secured to the car using the safety belts (also good). Models of the era were beginning to look a little bit like today’s seats, with a certain amount of head protection, and my childhood seat apparently didn’t have one of those unwieldy-looking bars across the front, either. My mom says that I was put in a booster seat around age 4, and would have been in it until about age 6 (at which point I probably simply refused to sit in it).
By 1986, the NHTSA reported that correctly-used car seats were 71% effective in reducing fatalities, and 67% effective at reducing serious injuries. As with the modern car seat, however, misuse could reduce effectiveness by 44% (and misuse is still a problem, so it’s important to get it right!). The stats today are about the same: using a car seat reduces your infant’s chance of dying in a car accident by 71%, and your toddler’s chance by 54%. Boosters, used up to age 8, reduce the risk of serious injury by 45%.
And that’s only the average: add in all kinds of modern technical advances, and you get an even safer ride. Load legs, Linear Side Impact Protection, rigid LATCH, smart installation systems like Britax Clicktight, and other advances are making car seats better than ever. There are tons of anecdotes everywhere on the web about the miraculous power of a car seat in the case of an accident, with kids coming out of roll-overs and side impacts without so much as a scratch. And of course, the modern car seat is built TOUGH: I never get tired of this story, about the ultimate test of the steel frame of a Diono seat!
All car seats meet a stringent testing standard, so every seat we sell does an excellent job at protecting your child in the car. Which seat is right for you, though? That can be a complex question, depending on your lifestyle and your car, so if you’re not sure, ask us or come into any Magic Beans store and ask the experts on staff. We’ll even take it out to your car to see how it fits! Because sure, back in the ‘70s, we did fine riding in those chintzy-looking seats, but today, it’s easy to do so much better.
Choosing a car seat in the modern day? Check out our videos for Best Infant & Convertible Car Seats of 2017!
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