Back in the day, car seats were more about keeping kids contained in the car than ensuring their safety. The first seats were produced in the 1930s and simply strapped to the back of a passenger seat, looking more like a bouncy chair than the harnesses we use today.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began implementing regulations for all car seats to be held by safety belts. In 1985 the first child passenger safety laws were finally passed—and with good reason. It turns out that car crashes are the leading cause of death in children ages 2 to 14. When installed and used correctly, car seats prevent injuries and save lives.
The evolution of car seat safety might be surprising to us now when most parents are accustomed to strapping our kids in tight. To make sure you’re up to speed on the current rules, here’s a rundown of the laws:
- Kids under 1 or under 20 lbs. must be in a rear-facing car seat in the backseat.
- Kids under 4 or under 40 lbs. must be in a forward- or rear-facing car seat in the backseat.
- Kids 4 to 8 and between 40-80 lbs. and up to 4’9” must be in a forward- or rear-facing car seat in the backseat or a booster seat.
Want more info?
- Get to know the Department of Transportation Child Safety Seat Laws.
- NHTSA has resources for parents and caregivers, including this helpful printout with car seat recommendations based on age, from birth to 12 years old.
- Safe Kids Wisconsin educates families on childhood safety with in-depth articles and other resources, including motor vehicle safety tips.