The history of the child car seat

Car seats are one of the things that we take for granted. They haven’t always been there but since they have been, our lives and the safety of our children has improved dramatically.

But, when did the car seat first come about?
In this article, we take a look at the history of the car seat and car seat laws. From the first ever car seat, to everything you need to know about the laws that have come into place this year.

When was the first car seat built?

Interestingly, the first car seat appeared in the 1930s. However, it was purely to keep children contained when the car was moving. There was no safety consideration or aspect to the car seat, it was purely for convenience.

The Bunny Bear Company designed a seat that hooks onto the back of an actual car seat. You can actually buy one similar on eBay. But please, please, do not put an actual child in it and use it as a car seat. It would probably fit quite comfortably on the back of a deck chair like in the photos though, but we don’t recommend that either. Another type of car seat was introduced in the 1940s. This actually sat on the car seat like the ones we see today. However, this was designed to be more of a booster seat that allowed children to see out the window. Again, it wasn’t designed for safety and was more for convenience.

When was the first safety car seat built?

Okay, so when did they actually start taking safety seriously? Well, it wasn’t until the 1960s when in 1962, two different men took advantage of the seat belt and designed car seats with the sole purpose of improving child safety in a vehicle.

American Leonard Rivkin created a seat that had a metal frame surrounded by a buckle, almost like a high chair for the car. British man Jean Ames designed a rear-facing seat with a Y-shaped strap. This was the one that is most like current models.

The problem was, the general public weren’t quite educated on the benefits of child safety in a moving vehicle. So, the idea didn’t really take off.

The Ford Tot-Guard

In true American fashion, Ford jumped on the car seat bandwagon and produced the “Tot-Guard” in 1968. It was a plastic chair with a padded area in front of the child’s face. It almost looked like an upright massage table that acted as a cushion upon impact. Shortly after Ford launched their Tot-Guard, General Motors got in on the action as well. The ‘Love Seats’ came in two versions, one for children and one for infants. They too used seat belts to keep them in place. They were made from polypropylene and were padded with urethane foam. They were advertised as lightweight and portable. They were the seats that look most like the ones we use today. However, don’t think that everyone jumped on the child safety bandwagon. Car seats were still an uncommon thing and many that did, advertised them as a practical way to keep your children out of the way and entertained. Sears even advertised a vinyl-covered foam pad that your child could sleep or play in in the back of your car.

When were laws on car seats first introduced?

It should be noted that seat belts weren’t even standard equipment in cars until the 1960s. The requirement for anchorage points in a car were introduced in 1965 and in 1968 a law to fit three-point belts in the front of the car was introduced. This was mandatory for all new cars and cars dating back to 1965.

Front seat belts became compulsory in cars in 1972. Though interestingly, this law only applied to cars registered in 1972 and did not extend to cars registered previously. It has never been a legal requirement to fit cars registered before 1972 with seatbelts. Which is why classic cars aren’t fitted with seatbelts nor do they have to be by law.

Anyway, it was not compulsory to wear seat belts until 1983 and rear seat belts were not compulsory until 1986.

There is no official date for when laws regarding car seats were introduced in the UK. However, laws in the United States came into effect in 1971. It was a requirement for all seats to be held by safety belts and to include a harness to hold the child into the seat. But, there was no crash testing for these seats.

There were laws regarding child seats in the UK and this was that it was compulsory for a child under the age of three to be in a car seat.

Child seat laws in the UK

Up until 2006, children over the age of three only had to use a car seat or booster seat “if available”. Children under the age of twelve were also able to sit in the front of the car without a car seat.

In 2001, Mother & Baby Magazine found that one in five parents let their young children travel in someone else’s vehicle without a car seat. They also reported that a popular car seat by Mothercare was being sold to parents despite receiving a safety rating of 0. Out of 100. In 2004, it was reported that 63% of adults abandoned using safety seats by the time their child was six years old. One in ten parents said they stopped using car seats by the time they had their third birthday. To think these reports came from this century, car seat safety has come miles in the past decade.

UK Car Seat Law 2006

Finally in 2006 more laws were introduced that made our children much safer. Under the 2006 law, all children under the age of 12 had to use some form of car seat unless they were taller than 135cm (4ft 5in).

It was also recommend that  booster seats were used until a child reached 4ft 11in.

So it wasn’t until 2006 that car seats were compulsory for those over the age of three. You can find out how the BBC reported on these changes here (if not just to see what the BBC website looked like in 2006…).

What are the new car seat laws?

It has only been this year (2017) that the car seat laws have changed again.

As of March 1st, your child must use a child car seat until they are 12 years old or 135cm. However, these car seats must be seats with a diagonal seatbelt. The exception is if the seat is designed for lap-belts or has ISOFIX anchor points.

So the aim of the new law is to phase out backless booster seats. Before, as long as a child was on “some form” of car seat it was legal. Booster seats were appropriate for any child above 15kg, which can happen at the age of 4 years old. So this new law is to improve safety for your child.

The law also states that any child under 9kg should travel in a baby carrier and if your child is 15 months old then they must sit in a rear-facing seat.  

It should be noted that this law is for going forward. As in, you can still have your child on a booster seat and you will not get fined for it. Shops will also still be able to sell old stock. However, the new changes are for your child’s safety and we do recommend that you change your child’s car seat if possible.

We have an article going into more detail about the new car seat laws, which you can read here.

In conclusion, we’ve come along way since car seats were first introduced. They were originally designed for convenience and to simply keep your child still when you were driving. Now, however, they are an essential part of keeping your child safe. It is safe to say that we’ve come far in the past decade in terms of the law on car seats and booster seats, and we have definitely come a long way since a car seat that you could hook onto the back of your seat. Absolute madness.
The latest in car seat innovation? Volvo unveiled an inflatable car seat a few years ago. You can check out the video below.

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