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…
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.
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.
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:
- to Look Before You Lock to prevent heatstroke deaths in hot cars
- to use rear view cameras to prevent backover deaths
- to lock our cars and secure the keys to prevent trunk entrapment
- to not text and drive and to avoid other distractions
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
- Child Passenger Safety Laws in the United States, 1978–2010: Policy Diffusion in the Absence of Strong Federal Intervention
- AAP – Policy Statement—Child Passenger Safety (2011)
- AAP – Selecting and Using the Most Appropriate Car Safety Seats for Growing Children: Guidelines for Counseling Parents (2002)
- AAP – Safe Transportation of Newborns at Hospital Discharge (1999)
- AAP – Safe transportation of premature and low birth weight infants. (1996)
- AAP – Selecting and using the most appropriate car safety seats for growing children: guidelines for counseling parents (1996)
- The Design and Effect of Child Restraint Systems in Vehicles
- Study – The automobile and heat stress.
- Study – Children as Passengers in Automobiles: The Neglected Minority on the Nation’s Highways
- Study – Children’s behavior during automobile rides: do car seats make a difference?
- Study – Restraint systems for the prevention of injury to children in automobile accidents.
- Study – Heat stroke in infancy.
- Study – Heat Stress in Motor Vehicles: A Problem in Infancy
- Statistics on Hot Car Deaths
- Trends and Patterns in Pediatric Vehicular Heatstroke Deaths, 1998-2017
- Take Action to Prevent Heatstroke
- Prevent Child Heatstroke in Cars
- Study – Heat related deaths to young children in parked cars: an analysis of 171 fatalities in the United States, 1995–2002
- Study – Heat Stress From Enclosed Vehicles: Moderate Ambient Temperatures Cause Significant Temperature Rise in Enclosed Vehicles
- Is This the Least Safe Baby Car Seat Ever? (1969 Sears Catalog)
- Auto Seat Gives Infant Comfort – AKA “Kiddie Catapult” (May, 1936)
- A Graphic History of Child “Safety” Seats
Last Updated on July 12, 2018 by Vincent Iannelli, MD