Those Crazy 80’s (Cars)

Part of a series on the US attitude toward families.

(Part one talks about population stats and how changes in the US population have made larger families the minority over the last century.) 

I am one of four. It was a bit easier to have four in the eighties. Expectations of families were different because demographics were different. This is neither good nor bad it’s just what has happened. Car seats weren’t a requirement for kids beyond one. It was fairly easy for them to put three kids (and eventually four) in a sedan because logistically it was easier. Kids could still sit in the front seat and bench rather than bucket seats were still the most common type of seat. 

I remember my brother – the youngest and only one in a car seat Getting out of his seat to fight over a toy with my sister who was closest in age to him. The seat was no where near as secure as the one I put my son in today. 

My parents owned a Buick when I was small. They later got an assortment of various second vehicles over the years; a dodge van and eventually a minivan in the nineties. But they always had a sedan. 

One of us could sit in the middle seat in the front, the other three could sit in the back. One time when my cousins were visiting we had twelve people in the sedan, with my littlest cousin sitting on the floorboard at my aunt’s feet. 

This was the 80’s though. While this was all good fun, it wasn’t very safe. Twelve people stuffed into a sedan was possible because of lax safety laws, different engineering in cars (bench vs. bucket seats) etc. With improvements in safety laws since the 80’s, fatal car accidents have decreased from 45,000-50,000 a year in the 70’s and 80’s to an average of 32,000 in the 2010’s. This is a significant reduction – a third of car accidents were reduced by stricter laws, seatbelt and car seat interventions. 

That higher level of safety however has made it much more expensive to raise larger families.  Larger vehicles cost more. Multiple car seats cost more. Higher safety regulations have significantly improved mortality in the United States, but improved mortality has come with a more expensive price tag. There are always trade offs. 


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