Welcome to our guide on when car seats were invented!
As you may know, children’s car seats are required by law in many parts of the world. But did you know that the very first car seats weren’t even made for safety?
When this technology was new, car seats were used not as safety devices but as a way of restraining children. In the 1930s, when the car seat was first invented, seat belts weren’t even mandatory for vehicles!
There’s much more to car seat history—keep reading to learn more!
Child Car Seat History and Evolution
Car seats weren’t always an essential part of vehicles. So how did their inception come about? Let’s give you a look back at the past.
Who Invented It?
The very first child car seat that was distributed on a mass level was manufactured by the Bunny Bear company in 1933. You would install one of these seats by fitting it across the back of a bench seat or in the passenger front seat.
However, the function of these seats was not to provide safety for children but to allow the driver to drive distraction-free.
So, the true inventor of the child safety seats as we know them today is Leonard Rivkin, who filed the very first patent for a child car seat in 1962.
When Was It Invented?
Large-scale manufacture and distribution of child car seats began, as we know, in the early 1930s. A decade later, new iterations of car seats were released, which had metal frames and canvas seats, and were attachable to the front seat.
But it wasn’t until the 1960s that car seats for safety first began to be mass-distributed.
Why Was It Invented?
When they were first invented, old car seats for children had two functions, neither of them related to safety:
- Elevating the child to a height for improved visibility
- Restraining the child and keeping them from disturbing the driver
When Did It Gain Popularity and Become Widespread?
In the not-so-distant past, the seat safety belt was not the mainstay that it is today. It was only in 1955 that the seat belt became a standard addition to Volvo cars.
Soon after, in the early 1960s, seat belt technology spurred advances in the technology of child restraint systems. In 1962, Leonard Rivkin of Denver, Colorado, invented the very first forward-facing seat which had a metal frame and the first five-point harness system.
At around the same time, Jean Ames, a British journalist and nurse, designed a rear-facing car seat that resembles the car seats of today. What set both of these new inventions apart was that their focus was on safety as opposed to car seats designed for restraint and comfort.
And that makes sense since both these people were parents concerned for the safety of their children! One mass-produced car seat which emphasized safety was created by the Ford Motor Company in 1968 called the Tot-Guard.
Changes to Designs in Modern Car Seats
In the 70s and early 80s, child restraints started to become more widely used, with specialized seats for toddlers, infants and older children. Then, in the 1990s, the LATCH system (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) was developed jointly by Graco Children’s Products and Volvo.
These new seats were easier to install and much more user-friendly. Additional safety features, like energy-absorbing foam, protection from side impacts, and more advanced harness systems began to appear in the 2000s.
Today, you’ll find many an infant seat with reclining positions and adjustable headrests; not just their safety but the comfort of children is also a priority.
Other advanced features include monitoring systems and sensors, which allow parents to monitor their child’s safety in real-time.
Introduction of Car Seat Regulations
It wasn’t until 1971 that the first car seat regulations were introduced. Undertaken by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of the United States, the first booster seat laws were federal standards in FMVSS213.
The first state law for child safety car seats was passed in 1979 in the state of Tennessee. In another 6 years, the whole of the United States had laws for car seats.
Are Child Car Seats Mandatory?
Yes—car safety seats for children are indeed mandatory in many parts of the world.
Each state in the US has its own laws regarding the use of child safety seats, but it is a requirement in every state.
The recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is that infants and toddlers should be secured in rear-facing baby car seats until the age of two years or until they reach the highest weight and height allowed by the baby seat manufacturer.
Before moving on to seat belts, however, they must first transition to a booster safety seat.
According to UK law, all children whose height is under 135cm (about 4’4″ feet) must be placed in a car safety seat when traveling. Infants are to be secured in rear-facing seats only, but older children must use a front-facing or booster seat.
Similarly, to the UK, in the EU children below 135cm in height are to be restrained in a suitable size car seat. Such car seats can be installed in the front seats or rear seats of the car.
However, if the car has a front airbag, it’s not permitted to use a rear-facing child safety seat in the front passenger’s seat; put it in the back seat instead.
What Are the Penalties If Car Seat Safety Rules for Babies Are Not Followed?
There are penalties in the US, UK, and EU for not following child passenger safety laws.
If you are found not using infant car seats for your kids in the US, you will most likely be penalized through a fine. This can go up to several hundred dollars.
However, in the case of serious injury or death in a car accident, criminal charges might be levied against the driver, depending on the state. Some states may also deduct points from a driver’s license.
For people failing to comply with child passenger safety regulations in the UK, there can be a fine between £500 and £2,500, depending on whether the case goes to court.
Up to three penalty points will also be removed from the driver’s license. And similarly, as in the US, a criminal case may be filed depending on the severity of the motor vehicle accident.
Not complying with child restraint car seat laws in the EU can lead to various penalties, including fines and penalty points. The exact punishment for not following safety standards will depend on the country.
Repeated violations of child seat laws can lead to a suspension of the driver’s license or the levy of criminal charges.
Last Updated on April 27, 2023 by Danny Reid