View Full Version : Question about kids in cars in 1976

01-13-2006, 05:48 PM
Dumb question alert:

How would a 1 year old have travelled in a car in 1976? I remember playing on the backseat of the car (or on the floor) for long trips at that time, but I was 4; what would a much younger child do? Did people use car seats? The car in question is a station wagon.

Cathy C
01-13-2006, 07:16 PM
Oh, sure. People had car seats in 1976. I was in high school and my older sister had her baby right about then. She always put him in a car seat. Now, they weren't as fancy as the ones they have now, but they were adequate for the purpose. Design pretty much the same, with the seat belt going over the lap of the child. I can't remember if they were required yet, but most people had them and I remember that the police department often raised funds to give them away to people who couldn't afford them.

Royale With Cheese
01-13-2006, 07:30 PM
I concur. In 1976 I remember being in a car seat that had a steering wheel on it. It didn't fasten to a seat belt. A lot of cars back then were made without seat belts since it wasn't a law to wear one.

Cathy C
01-13-2006, 07:43 PM
In 1976? No, all passenger cars had at least lap belts. Some of the fancier ones (Lincoln, Cadillac) had shoulder belts, but ALL of them had lap belts. You might be think of 1960s cars. But even in the LATE 1960s, they all had lap belts. Heck, my Dad's old '55 Chevy pickup had a LAP belt.

01-13-2006, 07:58 PM
So the car seats were belted in?

Would people have put a sleeping child in the back of a station wagon (i.e., lying down)?

01-13-2006, 08:45 PM
I concur. In 1976 I remember being in a car seat that had a steering wheel on it. It didn't fasten to a seat belt. A lot of cars back then were made without seat belts since it wasn't a law to wear one.

If you're talking about the United States, lap belts were made required equipement on all cars in the 1960's - I believe the year was 1966, although I could be off one or two years. I have a '66 Dodge Dart which originally had lap belts - converting it to shoulder belts was a real pain, but I did it because I figure even a half-assed shoulder belt installation is better than just lap belts.

Shoulder belts started to appear in the late '60s, and I think they were required on the front seats, but not the back, in all cars made in '73 and later. Again, I could be off on the exact year, but they really went on a safety kick around '73 that time (Hello, Mr. Nader). One of the early years in the '70s even required seat belts with an electronic interlock so the car wouldn't start unless the driver was buckled in, but reliability issues led to this requirement getting dropped and it only lasted a year. Some of the shoulder belts from that era were two-piece, non-retractable deals, with the shoulder part being something you could leave unbuckled.

Rear seat belts with shoulder harnesses were a real rarity then, and continued to be until some time in the '80s. So the rear seat would only have lap belts in most cases.

01-13-2006, 08:48 PM
So the car seats were belted in?

Would people have put a sleeping child in the back of a station wagon (i.e., lying down)?

While this isn't safe, I certainly did my share of napping in the back of the family station wagon, sometimes not even belted, while growing up in the '80s.

Also, many '70s era station wagons had three row seating as an option, often with the rear seat facing backwards. If you want your wagon to have a third seat, post what make and model you're thinking of and I can probably find if it was available.

01-13-2006, 09:08 PM
My niece and nephew were little back then. 1 and 3 years old. I remember myself using the lap belt, but I'd hold either my niece or nephew in my arms. No seatbelt on them. There were car seats, but nothing like today's. Thin plastic. And many times if used, the seat was not strapped in. People didn't seem to see the necessity of seat belts in '76. Or car seats for the little ones.

Cathy C
01-13-2006, 09:16 PM
So the car seats were belted in?

Would people have put a sleeping child in the back of a station wagon (i.e., lying down)?

Not a one-year-old. Never. Perhaps a ten or eleven year old might be left to sleep on the back seat, but even that's iffy by '76. And never in the cargo area. A sudden stop could have the kid end up with a broken neck.

MadScientist is right about Ralph Nader. I think his book, "Unsafe at Any Speed" was first published in 1965. Wasn't it all about the Gremlin and the Corvair that had the "suicide doors"? It's been AGES since I read that. I do know that the book was the beginning of the big "buckle up" push, where some of the first seatbelt laws started.

In car trips when I was growing up in the late '60s and early '70s, my parents made all of us belt up. They did too and I know they used shoulder belts, but they drove Lincolns, which were more top-end cars. Don't know about the regular Chevys and Fords of the time and whether shoulder belts were common. I'll rely on MadScientist for that.

01-13-2006, 09:25 PM
The car in question is a 1968 Chevy wagon.

So if you put a sleeping 1 year old in the car, you could just put him/her in the carseat, and he wouldn't slump over to the side? I don't have an image of much padding on those early seats (the way they are now, supporting the head). My character is driving alone with the baby.

01-13-2006, 09:38 PM
My nephew was born in 1969 and I remember him standing close to the driver (usually his Mom or Dad). It was an automatic reflex for anyone driving to swing their right arm across the seat to "hold" the child (keep them from falling forward) when hitting the brakes. I also remember after a near wreck that my sister started putting him in a car seat. Seems like car seats/seat belts were just beginning to be used about then, but I don't think they were "required" until quite some time later . . . maybe even after 1976.

In a station wagon a child might very well have been riding/playing in the back portion or seated in the back seat and not buckled in. A very small child may have also been in Mom's lap, or even in the floorboard at her feet (assuming she wasn't the one driving).

September skies
01-13-2006, 09:54 PM
Though seatbelt and child seat laws came into be in 1970, official baby car seats were just coming out in the late 70s. Or if they were out, very few people had them.

I got my license in 1977 and my little nephew was still in this little sitter thing that had two curved extensions that just latched over the back of the front seat. It was the most dangerous thing ever. You sit there - high up so you can see out - but nothing to hold you in.

I remember having to slam my brakes and my right arm instinctively extended to the side to keep him from flying out.

Does anyone remember those baby seats? Reminds me of the kind you attach to a table so that little ones can sit there and eat.

I saw one a few years later and a woman had her poodle in one.

I'll try to find a picture of one.

ETA: It looked something like this. (http://images.google.com/images?q=tbn:v25ucDUeCKPvoM:http://i13.ebayimg.com/04/i/05/10/92/6e_2.JPG) They were very popular. I think this one is for a table, but the car ones would just hook over the front seat - no seat belt whatsoever went through it (from car) though some had a little belt on the seat itself. And you couldn't use this in the backseat. They came in plastic and with canvas seats, so the baby's bottom just rested on it.

In 1979 when I did rotations in clinical nursing - maternity - we "recommended" to the parents to buy a baby car seat. But it wasn't the law yet. It wasn't until a couple of years later that we wouldn't let them leave the hospital unless they had one.

I also remember little ones in a carrier, just sitting on the floor of the car - usually the front seat so that the driver could watch them. If there was a second person, the person carried the child.

01-13-2006, 11:16 PM
Illiterwrite, if the baby was about a year old and sleeping, and only the child and Mom in the car, then I would say Mom either laid him in the seat beside her or made a pallet in the front floorboard. . . perhaps even a pallet in the back "bed" portion of the station wagon.

For many years after seat belts were required, many people thought they were more dangerous than not being buckled up, so didn't use them regardless of whether they had them or not. There are a lot of variables to consider. . . how well off is your character? An older model car at that time may not have even had seat belts installed. How long a trip? If its a short trip she may very well have laid the child close beside her. If it is night and she is driving a long distance, then she might have put the child in the back.

By '76 people were certainly becoming more aware of the need to buckle up, but some still refused to do so. . . others just weren't that concerned and didn't buckle up out of habit. I was raised in the country so town folk may been more apt to buckle up. We knew two families around that time that had station wagons and there was always a passel of kids riding in the cargo area or wherever they would fit.

A lot will depend on your character and her circumstances.

01-14-2006, 02:06 AM
Although it is now mandatory to use a child restraint (child safety seat) in all 50 states, in 1976 it was not common. In my experience, few people used car seats and the existing car seats were more for cute than safety. When I began driving in the mid-70's, I hauled many younger children (relatives and babysitting charges) around in my '68 Nova without a car seat because none was mandatory in Missouri.

In fact, my brother was in high school debate (graduated 1984) and one of the national debate topics used in the early 1980's was the pros and cons of child restraint seats.

I don't know what year seats became mandatory in my state but my best guess is mid-80's.

In 1976, in Missouri, it was still legal to allow kids to ride unrestrained in the back of pickup trucks!