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Car Seats

The History of Car Seats -- The Ride That Saves Lives

Imagine for a second what a force trauma injury and subsequent change in lifestyle would do for your child.

Damage to the frontal lobe could lead to many problems, such as memory impairment, educational or I.Q. dysfunction, or even the loss of the ability to read and write.

Some emotional disturbances could also occur, such as hyperactivity, apathy, or inattentiveness.

It's a horrific thought.

It was this thinking, however, that brought about the single greatest development in child safety in the last century. The child safety seat (or car seat, as it's commonly known) has developed in the last fifty years as a means to combat the staggering damage children can receive in the event of a car accident.

The road to a long life isn't always the smoothest ride, but thanks to the evolution of the safety seat it's easy to get a good start on it.

A Baby in a Bag!

The first instance of a child restraint in a vehicle was in 1898. This early device was little more than a bag with a drawstring that could attach to the car seat. It was really only meant to keep children from getting up or falling off their seats when a car was in motion.

At the time, with so few cars on the road and the low speed of vehicles, child safety wasn't really a priority. The cars of the day were mostly for hobbies of the wealthy. They were incredibly expensive (by early 19th century standards) and very unreliable.

The turn of the century saw the advent of Henry Ford's "automated automobile" factories cranking out hundreds of cars every month. The price of the car came down to a more reasonable level, and people everywhere could suddenly afford to drive. The overall performance of these vehicles improved dramatically, and suddenly there were thousands of drivers clogging up the roads and scaring horses.

At the same time the amount of accidents involving cars skyrocketed, and hospitals started seeing casualties from careless drivers. It was not a pretty sight.

Would They Ever Learn?

It wasn't until the 1930s that car designers came up with a working model of an infant or child car seat. The seat was designed (once again!) to hold children in place while a vehicle was in motion. It was not designed to keep a child safe in the event of an accident, however, and that is an important point of difference.

These child seats for the '30s did exactly what their predecessors did-they kept a child sitting in the back (or passenger side) of the car. By this time, safety belts were becoming commonplace in vehicles as were other safety devices meant to stem the tide of traffic fatalities.

As you can plainly see, while seatbelt safety was the topic of the day, children continued to suffer the terrible consequences of having an improper safety system in place.

Unfortunately, it would be another 30 years before anything serious would be done about it.

Peace, Love, and Car Seats

In the 1960s Swedish auto designers finally began to seriously address the problem of child safety in cars. They developed the first rear-facing child safety seat designed to prevent an infant from being injured in an auto accident.

It took several years and extensive testing, but in the end they had developed what is probably the most important safety feature to ever be added to a vehicle.

The original safety seat for children was based on the idea of "ride down" during a crash. Essentially, the closer the deceleration rate of the body is with the car itself, the less acceleration of the body. Accelerating the body is what causes injuries in the crash (accelerating into the dashboard or the back of a seat, for example).

When safety seats hit the market in the mid-1960s, they bombed. The only people who bought them were a strict minority of only the most safety-conscious parents. The problem was that people just didn't know enough about them, and it seemed like a useless expense.

This forced safety seat manufacturers to take a different route. In this case, Education would be the off-ramp of success.

The More You Know...

In the 1970s, faced with a working safety device for children but not being able to convince the general populace that they were a needed accessory for child care, there was a massive push to educate the public on safety seats and the dangers posed to children from conventional lap belts.

Members of the medical community, consumer groups, safety seat manufacturers, and insurance companies among others got together and showed the general public that safety seats for children were a necessary device for keeping their children alive in the case of a collision.

They also managed to convince various levels of governments, and some states started passing laws requiring the use of safety seats for young children. Tennessee was the first state to do so, and between 1978 and 1985 every single state was to follow suit. There has been little backlash toward these laws, as the general populace sees safety seats as a necessary precaution.

By 1984, nearly half of the population aged 0-4 was riding in some form of child safety car seat. Those numbers continue to grow to this day, where nearly all of the children requiring a safety seat are in one when they go anywhere in a vehicle.

A Seat for all Babies

Today, infant and child safety seats are in every vehicle carrying children. There is a definite need for them in today's society of safety conscious parents, and as such child safety seat developers have been quick to fill that need. There are hundreds of different types of safety belts on the market, one for any need or occasion, and for babies of all shapes and sizes. There truly is a seat for all babies.

Seat designers are using space-age polymers and designs to make child safety seats safer than ever before. Also, in response to the massive amount of confusion surrounding proper installation and use of child safety seats, there has been a push to make them easier to operate and easier to install.

New designs are hitting the shelves virtually every week, ensuring that in the future baby seats will continue to improve as technology does.

Even organizations such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are getting in on the drive to keep children safe. Known as a Child Protection System (CPS), the device actually addressed the problem of parents who unwittingly (or intentionally!) leave their children in a car when they go to do the shopping or run errands.

It looks as though child safety belts are strapping in... and they're ready for a long ride.

About The Author

Bill Schnarr is a successful freelance writer providing valuable tips and advice for consumers purchasing baby shower gifts, baby safety gates and wicker baby furniture. His numerous articles offer moneysaving tips and valuable insight on typically confusing topics.

This article on the History of Car Seats is reprinted with permission.

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