Sure, most CPSTs recall a childhood in which CRs were not routinely used, and many worked in the field before the formality of a certification program. Nonetheless, it can be eye-opening to reflect on a time—less than 45 years ago—when child passenger safety was a fledgling concept taken up by just a handful of concerned citizens.
The recent passing of industry pioneer Annemarie Shelness provides inspiration for such reflection. Her seminal article, Children as Passengers in Automobiles: The Neglected Minority on the Nation’s Highways, reminds us how far we’ve come. In reading the abstract (below), written six years before the requirement of dynamic CR testing was added to FMVSS 213, it’s clear that the value of child passenger safety was then still a subject of public debate. Back in the 1970s, it seemed reasonable to deal with the fact that seat belts didn’t fit children by simply excluding children from emerging seat belt laws. Advocates had to urge manufacturers to make devices that actually distributed forces in a crash and to provide instructions for their correct use. Yes, we’ve come a long way.
Children as Passengers in Automobiles: The Neglected Minority on the Nation’s Highways, by Annemarie Shelness and Seymour Charles (1975)
The federal government is urging states to enact legislation requiring that safety belts be worn. Small children are excluded from this requirement.
Following the neonatal period, the motor vehicle poses the greatest single threat to a child’s life. Contrary to popular belief, more small children are killed and injured inside the vehicle than outside. The majority of children now ride in cars unprotected or inadequately protected.
Standard safety belts are unsuitable for small children. Special devices capable of distributing collision forces over a large body area should be used.
Original children’s car “safety” seats were not intended to protect their occupants in a crash. These seats became subject to a government safety standard in April 1971. Shortly after this standard came into effect it was shown to be grossly inadequate in ensuring crash protection. A proposal for revising current safety criteria was issued in March 1974—to be implemented in September 1975.
A number of progressive companies have developed crashworthy devices. As public awareness is being awakened, manufacturers are beginning to find that “safety” sells.
Child crash protection has not escaped the attention of safety experts whose writings are reviewed, but it is shown that lack of parent awareness and concern can be directly related to sparse and often inaccurate and incomplete information available. Many popular child care books ignore the subject entirely.
Because correct use of devices is of such critical importance, instructions detailing what parents must do should be prominently displayed on a permanent label attached to the device. Observation of car seats in use confirms that correct installation of the device itself and/or proper securement of the child within the device is the exception rather than the rule.
The development of child restraints is of recent date. It is essential to keep abreast of advances made in the field. Earlier recommendations may be superseded by more recent research findings.
It has been found that parents are most receptive to new ideas prior to and immediately following the birth of a new baby. In-hospital instruction of expectant and new parents is showing promising results.
There is an urgent need for pediatricians to become involved in this vital area of “preventive medicine.”
Reference: Annemarie Shelness, A; Charles, S. “Children as Passengers in Automobiles: The Neglected Minority on the Nation’s Highways.” Pediatrics. August 1975, Volume 56 / Issue 2.