History of Car Seat Recommendations

We have come along way since the old days when kids would ride around without seat belts in the front seat of the car. Or a bunch of kids would ride packed into the back of a station wagon, also without seat belts.

In those early days, kids weren’t necessarily safe even if they were strapped in while in the car…

In 1938, Popular Mechanics offered instructions on making your own car seat.
In 1938, Popular Mechanics offered instructions on making your own car seat. Problem solved!

A leash might keep your child from jumping out of the car, but offers absolutely no help if you get in an accident.
A leash might keep your child from jumping out of the car, but offers little help if you get in an accident.

Anyone remember when cars didn’t even have seat belts? It’s hard to imagine, but three-point seat belts, the lap and shoulder harnesses that we use today, didn’t become standard in cars until 1968. Before that, many cars just had optional two-point lap belts.

Latest Car Seat Recommendations

Do your kids ride safely when they are in the car?

According to the latest recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids should ride:

  • in a rear-facing car safety seats in the back seat until they are 2 years of age or reach the weight or height limits of their car seat
  • in a forward-facing car safety seat in the back seat for as long as possible and until they reach the weight or height limits of their convertible or forward-facing car seat
  • in a belt-positioning booster seats in the back seat until they are between 8 to 12 years of age and the car’s lap and shoulder seat belts fit properly
  • with lap-and-shoulder seat belts in the back seat once they have outgrown their booster seats and until they are at least 13-years-old, when they might be ready to ride in front seat

In addition to these updated recommendations, we have seen many improvements in car seats and booster seats, including higher weight limits for rear facing car seats and car seats with harness straps.

History of Car Seat Recommendations

With all of these improvements, it is easy to remember that it wasn’t that long ago that kids rode without car seats.

Pediatricians began pushing folks to use car seats as early as 1971.Although the first car seats were invented in 1962, it wasn’t until 1968 that we got a car seat that could actually protect a child in a car accident. Before that, kids might ride in homemade car seats, safety harnesses, or leashes.

Better car seats followed once the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued the most minimum of car seat safety standards in 1971 and pediatricians began to push for routine car seat use. It would still take more than a decade, until 1985, that all states actually required young kids to ride in car seats.

Then, in 1996, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued their first major recommendations about car seat safety. Those recommendations included that infants should ride rear facing until they are at least 20lb or 1 year of age and that rear-facing car seats should be placed in the back seat if a car had a passenger side air bag.

Why issue recommendations if states had already passed car seat laws?

It was in response to an increasing number of air bag deaths, as more and more cars began to have passenger side airbags in the 1980s and 90s. In fact, by 1998, front side passenger side air bags were required on all new cars and light trucks sold in the United States. As we now know, a car seat in the front seat, up close to the air bag isn’t a good idea if you are in an accident and the air bag deploys.

The 1996 recommendations also called for the use of convertible car seats that could be used forward facing after a child’s first birthday and through about 40 pounds, and then booster seats until seat belts fit properly.

In 2002, we were introduced to the LATCH system, which made installing car seats easier. And the idea that school age kids needed to stay in car seats or booster seats a lot longer than most parents thought necessary was introduced. The AAP also clarified that infants should ride rear facing until they are 20lb and 1 year of age.

The 2002 car seat guidelines introduced the idea of booster seat for older kids.
The 2002 car seat guidelines introduced the idea of booster seat for older kids.

And then, in 2011, the AAP published the recommendations that we are still following today.

State car seat laws still haven’t kept up with the latest recommendations from the AAP though. Some still just use age based criteria or have criteria for car seats and booster seats that are far lower than AAP recommendations. And South Dakota still doesn’t even have a booster seat law!

Other Car Safety Recommendations

Of course, car safety isn’t all about car seats and seat belts.

Since the first laws and recommendations about car seats and seat belts, we have also learned:

Are you still sure that your kids are safe in the car?

What to Know About the History of Car Seat Recommendations

Car seat safety recommendations have come along way since kids began riding in cars.

More on the History of Car Seat Recommendations

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