From deathtrap to lifesaver: The evolution of the carseat

The first carseats were more about keeping kids corralled than protecting them in a crash.

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.

1920s

DIY restraints

DIY carseat
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.Courtesy thehenryford.org

1930s

Bunny Bear Company

Bunny Bear Company carseat
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.Courtesy LovesPhotoAlbum.com

1967

Ford Tot-Guard Seat

Ford Tot-Guard Seat
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.Courtesy thehenryford.org

1969

GM Love Seat

GM Love Seat
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.Courtesy thehenryford.org

1970s

KL Jeenay Seat

KL Jeenay Seat
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.Magic Car Pics/Shutterstock

2001

Britax Marathon

Britax Marathon
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.Courtesy ­thehenryford.org

2002

Graco Backless TurboBooster

Graco Backless TurboBooster
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.Courtesy Graco

2018

Nuna Rava Infant Convertible

Nuna Rava Infant Convertible
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.Courtesy Nuna

This article was originally published in the Winter 2018 Danger issue of Popular Science.