Child seats over the years: From DIY to national safety standards

By David Woodfill / ADOT Communications

Since the advent of the automobile, keeping children safe in moving vehicles has been a priority for parents everywhere.

Car seats and booster seats for kids are the best way to do that, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The agency said about 325 kids under the age of 5 are saved every year by car seats.

But finding a car seat wasn’t always as simple as ordering from Amazon or visiting your local big box store.child seats

Before mass-produced infant and child safety seats, parents had to rely on products backed by dubious claims of unregulated manufacturers, as well as their own imaginations and ingenuity. However, the results weren’t always ideal for, you know, keeping kids safe.

Many child restraints were DIY projects like this one (right) featured in a Popular Science article on Jan. 31 2019.

According to the publication, this steel and leather contraption was one innovative family’s solution. According to the publication, "it's useless in a wreck.”

Over time, manufactures began to answer the call for child restraints and, believe it or not, among their answers were this tether contraption that was tied onto the child and secured to the vehicle’s frame.

child seats2According to this vintage ad (left), this harness-like contraption, which “guards your child as you’re busy driving through traffic,” was focused on keeping a child out of mom’s and dad’s hair while they were driving, rather than keeping the child safe.

Eventually, it was finally determined the best way to secure a small child is by making them remain seated and buckled.

According to the website saferide4kids.com, whose mission is to help prevent child deaths in car crashes, in 1965 a mother from the UK named Jean Helen Ames patented a seat designed to more closely resembles modern child seats.

It was around that same time that Swedish inventor and medical doctor Bertil Aldman realized the additional safety benefits of rear-facing seats, according to the website. He modeled his seat after seeing pictures of the astronauts in the Gemini space capsule.child seats3 

In 1968 automakers realized the growing demand for safer vehicle accommodations for children. One of them, the Ford Motor Company, came up with what they called the Tot-Guard, according to the website TheHenryFord.org (right).

According to an Oct. 21 2015 article in Good Housekeeping, the chair "had a padded area in front of the child's face and acted as a cushion upon impact."

Finally in 1971, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration adopted the first federal regulations for child seats.

Today, car seats remain the safest way to transport your little ones. Sadly, many injuries and fatalities result not from the lack of car seats in vehicles, but due to incorrect use or installation.

According to a study published by The Journal of Pediatrics April 1, 2016, misuse of car seats was found to be a widespread problem. According to the study’s authors, 95% of families were incorrectly installing or placing their children in their car seats. NHTSA has information about how to correctly install a child safety seat and selecting the right seat.

For more information on the proper selection and installation of a car seat, consumers can go to nhtsa.gov/carseats.