A love-hate saga with car seats

Share this

About Car Seats
By Jen Rouse
The Short Years

Oregon Blog

I always use them. Always. Even when we are just going around the corner to Beth’s school. And I make them all buckle up, every time.

When we were brand-new parents, Eric spent about an hour installing the infant-seat base in the back of our Honda Accord, and when he and his brother were on a road trip and his brother wanted to recline the passenger seat all the way back so he could sleep in a more comfortable position, Eric refused to move the car seat base because he was so adamant about keeping that seat in the exact, perfect, SAFEST position for our little girl.

And so yes, I am a faithful user of car seats. But at the same time, I have to admit I’m starting to get kind of tired of them. And of all the constant rules, and revisions to rules, in the name of keeping our kids safer and safer and safer. It’s starting to get a little ridiculous.

 Child safety seat image from Wikimedia commons.

Have you heard that in Europe, studies have shown that riding in rear-facing seats would be beneficial up to age 4? And that the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration actually recommends that kids stay in booster seats until they are 8 years old? And also that no kid should ever ride in the front seat of a car, even with a seat belt on, until they are 4-foot-9?

Four-foot-nine? I know adult women who are only 4-foot-11 or so! Are they supposed to sit in the back in a safety seat? My kids might not be that tall until they are 11 or 12. Am I supposed to keep them in the back until then?

When I was a kid, a sedan with a front seat (bench or bucket) and a back seat (three seat belts across) was the normal car for most average-size families with two or three kids. Now, you can’t hardly find a parent anywhere driving anything but an SUV or a minivan. Why? Car seats. If you’ve got three kids age 8 and under, you’ve got three seats of some sort that have to all fit across that back seat. And fitting three car seats in there and getting them appropriately buckled is a tight, tight squeeze. Most parents don’t even try. If you ever want to drive a carpool or give a friend a ride home from soccer practice, you’re completely out of luck, even with that empty seat up front next to mom. So instead, we have four-person families driving around in half-empty minivans and SUVs because car seats make it so inconvenient to do anything else.

The NHTSA’s website says that “an estimated 8,959 lives were saved from 1975-2008 by child restraints.” However when you actually go through and read the .pdf document that figure comes from, you see the note in parentheses: “From 1975 through 2008, an estimated 8,959 lives were saved by child restraints (child safety seats or adult seat belts).” (emphasis mine) Soooo…. it’s actually regular seat belts and/or child safety seats combined? Do they have any statistics that break it out with just car seats? Are the ever-increasing car seat rules really what’s keeping people safer, or is it that seat belt use in general is higher than it used to be, combined with safer cars and better air bags?

As I’ve said before, I follow all the parenting rules and recommendations. We vaccinate, even when it causes unpleasant side effects. We use car seats religiously, even though it means we drive a bigger car than we might have if we lived a generation ago. We would never do anything to compromise our kids’ safety. I’m certainly not going to throw my kids’ car seats away, nor am I suggesting a conspiracy theory: government in league with evil car seat manufacturers! No, that’s not me. Does this rant even have a point? I’m not sure.

Mostly, it’s just that I can’t help thinking back to my own childhood, when we certainly did wear seat-belts all the time, but we didn’t think it was necessary to harness a 5-year-old into a cocoon for a trip to the grocery store, and something simple like getting a ride with a friend didn’t require a complicated calculation about how many seats were available and whether Mom 1 could loan Mom 2 an extra booster seat for her grade-schooler. I wish I could still do that without feeling that I was somehow putting our kids’ lives at risk the entire time.