Grandma & Grandpa's Farm

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Of Belts and Books, Briefcases and Backbacks... Part-1

Belting One On -- Front Seat Bad-Backseat Good

I come from a reckless generation... perhaps lucky we were wreck-less.

When I grew up, cars seldom had seatbelts as standard equipment -- as I mentioned in "Wandering Wags: Travelling Time With Your Dog" -- with our first car with seatbelts being a '66 Meteor. (image to right -- image from "Winged Messenger - Canadian Cars") That is referring to our Parent's car, that is. Our '72 Mercury was the first care that had convenient seatbelts and we only really started regularly using them towards 1976 or so. Those were such reckless times...

Back then too, my Sister and I considered it a treat to ride up in the front seat with Dad. There really were only a few times when that happened: When Mom stayed home -- she didn't drive and so the passenger seat was Mom's seat; when we went on a long highway trip and my Sister got carsick -- and Mom would have her sit up front with her; when there were more than two guest passengers in the car meaning that the back seat was full so there'd be three up front; and when on a few rare occasions when the trunk was so full of stuff -- like when Grandpa gave Dad a side of beef one Christmas -- that the suitcases took up the half of the back seat that my Sister normally sat on and so she had to sit in the front seat. Those were such reckless times...

(image to left, 1972 Mercury Monterey -- image from "Down On The Street")

I won't say my Parents were neglegent. Things were different in the 60's and early 70's. My Parents were quite strict actually that my Sister and I were to stay seated in the car while we travelled and that we were not to be standing on the seat like it seemed at least half the parents let their children do. They also didn't let us hang out the window like the family dog either like it seemed some families did. Even our dogs were required to keep their heads inside the car... true they were allowed to have their front paws on the back of the front seat so their nose could get out the window, but they had to keep their head in the car.

As time went on, accelerated -- perhaps with my defensive driving courses which my parents thought it was a good idea to have -- I began to figure it a good idea to wear a seatbelt. I worked to get myself into the habit of wearing one which was enforced in Driver Training. I decided I would always wear one driving and that it became part of my driving ritual when I got my first car when I was 17. I have always worn one since if there was a seatbelt and if it was at all possible or prudent. On some jobs as a security officer doing patrols on the dock it wasn't prudent. Driving without wearing a seatbelt feels naked to me.

Airbags seemed like a good idea to me. I did worry about people deciding not to wear seatbelts becausethey had airbags, but... people will be people. I do recall there being discussions early on about the dangers of airbags, but airbags were only found on upscale cars as options. Issues about dangers of airbags to children and smaller adults were something that were in the hands of the people who opted for the airbags. Things were different when airbags started becoming the norm. (airbag deployment image to right -- image from "")

That is history. Since then seatbelt use, like helmet use on motorbikes and now bicycles, has become manditory and enforced by law. (image of child in bicycle helmet to left from "HAMAX") There have been stricter and stricter regulation on seating for children riding in motor vehicles. At first the regulations did rankle me because I was a poor student and though I had a car never had much money and I tended to taxi around friends who did not have cars yet had children. I could not afford to buy carseats for children or modify my older though well loved and cared for cars. Still since then there have been put into place resources for low income families to buy carseats for their kids even if they don't have a car so that they have them when it comes time to transport their children.

I think that carseats are a good idea, just like I think seatbelts are. (image to right from U.S. Census Bureau) I think that other safety equipment like airbags are good things too.

But there is something that has been bothering me... it is about the whole thing of it being a bad thing for children to be in the front seat of a car. I can agree that if the airbag is dangerous to children and small adult, that a child should ride in the backseat. ...but... I think there is a problem -- the problem not being with where the children ride, but why they must ride there. I think that the problem is with airbag design and rather than moving children and small adults out of the front seat, airbags should be made safer!

I see many arguments about the back seat being inherently safer from objects penetrating the interior of the car or crumple damage. There is validity there, and long, long ago I recall Mom talking about the front passenger seat being called "the suicide seat" -- though a lot of that was from pre-seatbelt days due to the fact that the front passenger would be catapulted through the windshield since they didn't have anything in front of them to stop them. The driver had the steering wheel and the back seat passengers had the back of the front seat to stop them from hurtling forward... remember this was before people so regularly wore seatbelts.

Okay so there were more dangers in the front passenger seat. That is especially true I know when nobody wears seatbelts. I think though where the argument wears thin is that if the back seat is safer... why let even the driver sit in the front seat? I know that sounds stupid. But if the seat is dangerous, then should anyone be allowed to sit there? Couldn't the front seat be made as safe as the back?

(image to left of forward facing car seat from "AAP -- Car Safety Seats: A guide for Families -- 2008")

I think in part the airbags and shoulder harness in the front seats -- especially for the passenger seat -- were to increase that safety, as were things like padded dashboards and so forth.

I think rather than all the propaganda to push children to the back seat, airbags that are not dangerous to them should be designed! There is a flaw in the airbags if they injure. I would have thought more research would have been done in the time since they were invented to solve this problem. There are better airbag systems coming out now and in development, but I rather think that kids are being asked to sit in the back of the bus.

~ Darrell


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