For squishy babies, cars present a fate worse than diaper rash. Securing kids during a ride took decades to perfect. But figuring out the best way to strap in wee ones is worth it: The right restraint can reduce the risk of death in a crash by 70 percent. Here’s how child safety seats went from precarious to secure.
The first autos prioritized speed and freedom over safety. Parents who needed to contain their children used patchwork solutions, like threading their tykes through this cam strap and faux leather contraption. It’s useless in a wreck.
Early car seats resembled the simple highchairs you’d find at a dinner table. They elevated the child so they could see out the window but had no restraints beyond a simple lap bar to keep kids in place—and away from the driver.
The Detroit automaker was among the first companies to introduce real frontal restraint: padded polyethylene shields to protect a baby’s fragile spine in a crash. Today, we turn babes backward, which is much more effective.
General Motors released its own car seat, which was much closer to the safety setups we know today. The lifted bucket-style shape was a model for subsequent designs, though the plastic surface isn’t as cushy as kid chairs are now.
In the early ’70s, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration set the first U.S. regulations requiring safety harnesses, including the early three-point Y-strap. Most modern restraints come with a five-point yoke.
Car seats can save lives but only when properly installed. The Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, or LATCH, system simplifies the process. Standard in all American cars since 2002, it fastens a safety seat to the vehicle from the base.
Tennessee and South Carolina became the first states to adopt booster-seat laws for older children. By pushing youngins up, the lifts ensure belts hit kids across their hips, not in the stomach.
Now that tykes snap safely in place, companies are turning their attention to side-impact protection, adding extra foam padding to reduce damage from T-bone crashes. Research on its efficacy isn’t settled.
Written by Eleanor Cummins for Popular Science and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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