I was in a meeting today and the subject of child car seats came up. We had a long discussion about car seat installers, not using previously owned car seats, and liability issues related to improperly installed car seats.
“I’ve heard that 80% of all car seats are installed incorrectly,” one of my coworkers said. I was astounded. Don’t you just strap them in with the seat belts? (This is the part of the story where you figure out I don’t have kids). That can’t be right I thought to myself. So I looked it up, and found that some studies estimate that up to 95% of car seats are installed incorrectly.
I also learned there is a whole industry devoted to car seat installation, including 40 hour certification trainings. And that car seats expire, like milk. (Or my father, as per a voice mail I received from my mother informing me of my father’s death. But that’s another post.)
Anyway, this information about car seats and child safety brought up two very important questions for me: first, why on earth doesn’t someone invent an infant car seat that is both simple to install and safe? And second, how is it that anyone in my generation is still alive after riding in cars?
I’m aging myself here, but I remember when cars didn’t have seat belts at all. And one of my earliest — and happiest — memories is standing on my grandpa’s lap while he drove, helping him “steer” the car as a toddler. My grandpa wasn’t negligent, it was common to hold kids while you were driving. It was the way toddlers were kept entertained on car trips before there were Ipads.
I also remember being in the front seat of cars as a very young girl and a parent’s arm flung across me being the only thing that kept me from bouncing off the windshield when someone stopped short. I always smile fondly at the end of the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special, which I watch faithfully every year, when I see the gaggle of kids sitting in all directions piled into the back of a station wagon.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for safety improvements. I’m glad that kids don’t bounce off windows anymore, although I’m sure that also helped harden my head and toughen me up. Just kidding. Kind of. And I’m really glad it’s mostly frowned upon to be a kid trapped in a car with no ventilation while two parents chain smoked on a 2,000 mile road trip. I’m pretty sure my lungs have never recovered from that.
I think what’s most amazing to me is how quickly all standards for transportation safety changed. As a kid in the late 70s and 80s we’d race around on our bikes with no helmets, gone for hours at a time while our parents had no clue where we were. Which was fortunate because sometimes we were riding our bikes between the rails of train tracks, playing “chicken” with cars, or going to meet boys at the park to drink beer and make out. But as long as we were home by dark and we didn’t run into anyone who knew our parents it was all good.
No one in my neighborhood skied, but we did have the poor kid’s version, skeeching. This was a very fun activity where we’d hold onto the back bumper of a car or truck and let it pull us around the snowy city streets, effectively skating on our shoes. The best skeeching happened when the driver didn’t know you were back there.
If one of us were to wear a helmet or protective pads while biking or skateboarding or whatever else we were doing, we would have been laughed out of our neighborhood — right after being beat up for being a “wuss”. I don’t think I even knew bike helmets existed until I moved to Portland in the 90s.
Sadly, today’s kids won’t know the joys of skeeching or driving at age four or flying through the air after jumping off their bikes at the last possible minute before impact. Sure, they’ll likely have fewer brain injuries, but is it worth it? Maybe…..
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