Car Seats – Necessary or Not?

I have to admit that I’m a little nervous about writing this post – I’m usually a little devil-may-care about what I put up here, but I think this could be a bit of a hot-button.  Especially because it’s me talking about my screw-up and calling out my fellow NYC mothers on their own blind-eyes.  I’d love to not have the screws put to me, but if they need to be, ok.  Just remember I’m a delicate little flower, and my birthday is coming up and also I’m a nice person that can be stupid at times.  So, this is the story -

I was walking down West 15th and 8th Avenue in NYC  with 7-year-old Roan’s hand holding my right hand and 4-month-old Smith bouncing in a carrier.  My left hand was gripping two pipe insulators I just picked up at a hardware store.  Add to that: Roan’s book bag, lunch box as well as a diaper bag hanging off my shoulder.  We’re alright, if just a bit awkward – but were making our way successfully towards the F train.  Roan then spotted an available taxi coming our way and suggested we grab it.  Before I could even say “yes”, my city-savvy child hailed it and honestly?  I was 100% down for it.  The occasional luxury of a taxi is something I can go for.

As we sailed down the West-Side Highway, I was thinking this idea was inspired.  Roan loves looking at the city from a car, and I always feel a little starstruck taking in the beauty of where we live.  We haven’t always lived here.  We lived in Utah before – where everyone has at least two cars, big plots of land, pets, backyards, space mountains, cars – wait.  CARS.  C-A-R-S.  I’m in a car.  With two children.  And no car seats.

It’s a dirty little secret in NYC.  Nobody really talks about the reality that mothers hop into cabs all the time with their children.  We don’t carry car seats around with us.  They’re not pre-installed in the cabs.  It’s what we do.  At least, that’s what I’ve seen.  When I moved here I don’t think I would have made this gaffe, but after living here for five years, owning no car and not really thinking about the logistics of riding in cars very often – it’s just become something far away from the seven bazillion other things I perseverate about.

Before anyone accuses me of not loving my children, of being a bad mom, or having the worst instincts ever for raising children, let me save you some time.  I’ve read the comments on other posts tackling this topic (although I may be the first idiot to actually say, “Eh, guess what I did?”  The other posts I’ve found are more of a witch-hunt for mum’s like me.  And the comments reflect that.  So you know, if it makes you feel better have at it and tell me I suck.  But I’ve already sort of sussed that out.)

But.

Is it really the huge mistake we all think it is?  Our knee-jerk reaction is to feel like car seats are 100% necessary all the time.  But there is research out there that has shown a death rate of 11.9% for children travelling in car seats involved in accidents, compared to a death rate of 11.1% for children simply wearing seat belts.  That’s not a huge difference.  The research is by no means conclusive, there are variables and information can always be skewed to show any perspective, no?

But.

I just wonder if we’re being sold a feel-good idea that doesn’t have all that much merit.  The data on car seats is all over the place.  And it’s all relatively new.  When I was a child, my parents put their five children in the back of a pick-up truck with a camper shell and drove three days across the country every single summer.  I don’t know what it would have looked like if there would have been an accident.  Probably not good.  But the point is, this is a new concept – and probably not as definitive as we all want to believe.

Where do you land?

Are car seats a mandatory item before you hop in a car with your kid?  Have you ever had to forego the car seat  - especially my NYC or other urban moms?  How do you reconcile getting in with your kids and no car seats?

One interesting thing – via nyc.gov - taxi cabs are exempt from car seat laws:

Drivers of yellow medallion taxicabs and for-hire vehicles and their passengers, are exempt from laws regarding car seats and seatbelts.  Keep in mind, the TLC encourages everyone in the vehicle to buckle their seatbelts while riding in a cab.  There are no Taxi and Limousine Commission rules regarding this, as it is a State exemption. Passengers with children are encouraged to bring their own car seats, which the drivers must allow passengers to install.
*NOTE – Children under the age of seven are permitted to sit on an adult’s lap.

For the record – I had bad dreams for three nights about my choice, my judgement and what I’ll call my mistake.  I’m still sold on the idea that we should always use car seats.  They’re not perfect.  But they’re probably better than nothing.  I’m just not convinced that they are as safe as we’ve been told.  What do you think?

29 thoughts on “Car Seats – Necessary or Not?

  1. Jody, I am with you. When I came into the city from the far ends of Brooklyn, by subway, and had my 2-3-4-5 year old in tow, I was in this situation so many times. And I remember trips in the car when I was little, no car seat… Sometimes we do things – things that were normal in a society not so long ago, in the world and time where kids could be kids, and climb trees, and maybe light a match when they were 5, and walk out of the house at 6 without holding their parents hand, while Mom watched over from the window. The kids that preferred to spend the day outside with the buddies, as opposed to spending it with their beloved Wii, PS and alike. I am a firm believer, and many may disagree, that conforming to standards is not always right. That each Mother has a choice on how to raise and care for her children. For not one single person in the world will love and protect our little ones as us – Mothers. :) And guess what – you are one amazing Mom, and I am so glad I have got to meet you!!!! :) xoxo, -A-

  2. I live in a city – but a car-centric city. In order to leave the hospital with your baby you have to bring the car seat in & prove that it is properly installed & adjusted.

    My mom & I were talking the other day about how I came home from the hospital in her arms – and it was perfectly fine/normal to do so. I am still alive & well as a fully functioning adult today, so I guess you could use that argument against them.

    My husband was in a non-avoidable, 100% not his fault car accident on Friday. Do I believe that his seat belt made a big difference? I do. If there was a baby in the car I can only imagine the whiplash/neck/head damage it could have caused.

    I don’t know what to say about a world where car riding isn’t the norm, but in my world where it is, I’d rather deal with the extra time/hassle etc for the peace of mind on the off chance something DID happen. Oh yeah, and the whole “it’s the law” where I am.

  3. Sweetheart, no one could ever accuse you of being a bad parent. Statistics show it is not a carved in stone reality that your child will be safer.

    When my daughter was small there were no car seats. There was a small flimsy thing that hooked over the seat of the car and held a child so that could see out of the window. Now, that was a joke. She is 40 this year. Enjoy the occasional ride, you deserve it.

  4. The Europeans have both stricter laws about car seats (in Scandanavian countries, at least, kids have to face backwards in the kind of seat we’d call an infant seat until they’re 4 years old) and a richer set of data about their efficacy. I’m definitely pro car seat, and I am convinced that they are as safe as we’re told they are. On the other hand, did I just drive my 7 year-old goddaughter around without her booster last week? Yes, I did. Her mom was out of town, she forgot to leave me the booster, and we had a lesson to get to and a park calling our names afterwards. Now I’m in the same boat as you, with the nightmares and guilt. So what can we do? I guess that I’d not feel super-comfortable riding in a cab with an infant, but with an older kid like Roan, I think it’s fine. I think this is one of those issues that anyone can overthink until they’re dizzy: a cab is lovely, faster, probably nothing will happen, but oh god what if it does, it’s against the law, and so on ad nauseum. Like so many parenting things, there are no perfect decisions. There are 9 kajillion choices we make every day, and it’s impossible for all of them to be 100% “right” or guarantee that any one choice will keep our kids safe from harm. I think each individual situation has to be weighed separately, and you go with what will bring the most benefit and least potential cost. Maybe that’s taking a cab. Maybe it’s continuing to schlep your stuff on foot and by subway until the twins are bigger. Who knows? But as always, I’m impressed with your honesty about your choices and your ability to deconstruct them in an interesting, intelligent way.

  5. aw hell.

    i never sat in a car seat once i could figure out how to buckle the belt myself. i think the safety commission is too hyper…especially when it comes to booster seats (or whatever they call that seat for older kids).

  6. I live in suburban Chicago. Here, car seats/boosters are required to age 8. My middle child was in one to age 9 because she is small. My youngest is now 6. I think I have put them in a cab in downtown Chicago twice and just buckled up. Usually we drive rather than taking public transportation so we can avoid this. I am more ok with an older child going w/o a booster than a baby with no car seat. My friend has kids the same age as mine and hasn’t used a booster in 2 years. I say to each your own, but I think the guilt would be overwhelming if she had a car accident with a serious injury that could have been prevented/lessened.

    All that being said, sometimes you just need a ride! Don’t beat yourself up. Everyone arrived safely. Move on!

  7. I’m glad to have not lost sleep over the few times I “Britney-ed” my kids in the car, or set them free in a minivan on a long family road trip. These are the risks I’ve taken in the name of child/parent sanity.

    I do try to check in with my intuition first, asking “is it OK to do this now?” If I feel no danger, then I go for it. This is the same tactic I used when I was a kid, funny enough, and it always kept me out of danger then too. My mother doesn’t understand using this faculty to assist in decision making, and I don’t expect anyone else to either, but it works for me, and I’ll continue using it until further notice :)

    Your ability to consider all options and consistently strive toward those optimal mothering strategies is mind-boggling to me…as is your tendency to then second guess yourself ;) I’m thinking you are a mighty trustworthy and level-headed woman, car-seat or not.

  8. We’ve done the same thing in NYC cabs several times with our 3 y/o. We’ve never felt good about it, but it’s not against the law, and sometimes you just don’t have a choice. Sleep well!

  9. My daughter was a very sick newborn and we traveled 2 hours to get to her cardiologist appointments and surgery. She would throw up at the angle of the car seat put her. I just took her out and held her. What was i going to do? And that’s what i would tell a cop if i were pulled over. More chance of her aspirating that a car accident.
    I think you keep your kids much much safer by not driving often therefore, not putting them in the situation to be in an accident. The more they are in cars, the more the risk increases.
    Did you see the movie, Babies? (streaming on netflix) In Mongolia, they wrapped the baby tight, and the mom climbed on back of a motorcycle holding baby, with the dad driving and a toddler in front, and drove across grassland, no road! And you should see what they do in Sicily!
    You’re fine!

  10. I remember not even having seatbelts in our car! Once my parents put us in the back of the pickup w/ a topper on it, and a propane heater for a 6 hour ride. The heater tipped over and caught fire, my sister and I were hitting the back window to get my parents attention (they ignored us, thought we were fighting) until they finally saw the fire. The next trip, they lashed the heater down so it wouldn’t fall over, lol. In the car they’d make us buckle up for “long trips”, which is ridiculous, since most accidents happen close to home. Somehow, we survived childhood, but I make my kids sit in boosters/car seats, just in case, but occasionally for trips to the neighbors (our driveway is 2 miles long) they don’t have to wear them.

  11. I have done the same with my son. When you live in NY and you have your bag, the diaper bag, a stroller and a toddler, sometimes you can’t face rush hour or any hour on the subway. Cut yourself some slack – I don’t know a parent in NYC who has not brought a child for a ride in a taxi without a car seat once in a while.

  12. It’s not just NYC. People traveling with their kids will bring car seats on the plane, but not everyfreakingwhere they go sightseeing while at their destination. Cabs, limos, buses, etc., you just hold them in your lap. If you happen to actually live in those cities, it’s the same thing. Even in cities where most people drive, like Los Angeles.

    Puhleeze, don’t even beat yourself up about it. Yes, I’m sure seat belts and car seats make us safer, but look at how many of us survived before they ever existed.

    And listen, moving to the general from the specific, try not to let any parental police people get to you. You can listen objectively to any information someone wants to give you, but you don’t answer to ANYONE outside your immediate family when it comes to what you choose to do as a parent. Do your best to let things slide off your back. “Hmmm, I’ll have to think about that.” is a good response. And just back off emotionally if anyone tries to get in your face. Not. Their. Business.

  13. just curious- how fast do the trains go? no car/train/baby seats on the subway eh?

  14. Cut yourself some slack and get some sleep. I can’t ever remember being strapped into a car seat when I was little.

  15. People who would normally wear seatbelts, don’t wear them in cabs. Also dangerous and no one worries about it.

  16. As far as cabs in NYC, it’s not like you can lug a car seat with you, so I wouldn’t beat yourself up about that. When we were in Disney, we rode buses all the time and the girls were never even buckled in to anything.

    As far as using car seats regularly, absolutely. When you know better, you do better. There are plenty of things my parents did with me that I would never do with my own children. Why? Because I know more now! My kids are tiny. If there was an accident they would be thrown all over the place. There’s no way I’d risk it simply because I survived no car seat.

  17. Well, I definitely believe that seat belts and car seats make us safer in the car, but I can not count the number of times I just wanted to hold my infant when driving. He was miserable in his car seat and used to me nursing to comfort him. I wanted to just strap him on me with a wrap, strap myself in with a seatbelt, and hold or nurse him until we got to our destination. It would have made all of us happier. My husband’s total disapproval was the only thing that stopped me. I’m glad those days are behind me now. As for you, given that the taxi is exempt from the law, no worries. Keep the babies strapped to you and Roan buckled, and you’re good…at least better than otherwise.

  18. You know, I was just having this conversation with my girls’ Godparents last week, when that new recommendation that you leave your kids rear facing until age 2 came out. They’re both surgeons at a high ranking hospital in Dallas. They both said the exact same thing: there are survivable car accidents, and unsurvivable accidents. The grey area in between is VERY VERY small, and most of the time it is about freak factors (you have a chain saw in your back seat..) that make a difference between alive and dead. Now, injuries are probably a different matter. As a daughter of a paramedic, I got to see my fair share of car accidents as a child, and nothing you see is ever good. There’s a VERY wide range of car seat laws and customs across the world. A key factor when viewing ANY of the data is to look at what country it comes from. The thing most people don’t think about is that data from the US is very skewed: we drive more, faster, and further than almost any other populace in the world. More of us drive. Public transportation is a joke in most areas. We have working laws and a general personality trait that means we’re a little high strung and consider ourselves stressed out or overworked..leading to things like road rage or adrenaline driving. Its all soooo subjective and every crash is different. I’d say, unless you’re going to CT or NJ or some long trip on a fast road, you’re good to go without car seats. We did it from time to time when we lived in California (mostly to/from airports when we weren’t taking a carseat on the trip), and I think its just a necessary thing sometimes. Now, if you were doing 80mph through LA at 2am right after the bars closed that’d be a different story – but the 2 times I’ve been in NYC every cab I’ve taken has been lucky to get over 30.

    I too rode without seatbelts or in the backs of trucks most of my youth (which was only 15-20 years ago!!) and I think it is way over sold in some cases…particularly in things like the recs on rear facing etc. My ER doc/surgeon friends/family all say kids in carseats fare better in really really bad accidents, injury wise, but that they’ve never noticed a difference between rear and forward facing after the child has good head/neck/torso control. The data is just too specific/too new to really account for EVERYTHING.

  19. My daughter is just over a year old. My husband and I purchased a front facing seat that works for now and converts to a booster later. When she was a year old (because she was already over 20 pounds), we installed it and she has been riding facing front ever since (all 4 months since her birthday). Just last week, they changed all the car seat recommendations and now she is supposed to be in the rear facing seat until age 2. She doesn’t fit in her infant seat anymore, so that would mean purchasing something else. I feel like it is a scam to get people to buy more expensive seats over and over. They also rased the booster seat age from 8 to 12. My neighbor’s 11 year old has been booster seat free for 3 years and she refuses to go back to riding in “a baby seat”

    I don’t think that they really know what is the best thing and I think that as parents we can only do what we think is best for our children. As for me, I am not purchasing another car seat. My daughter was perfectly safe (according to the safety recommendations) when I got this one and its only the recommendations that have changed to make me feel badly and if I hadn’t stumbled across the news of the change one day, I would be riding around in ignorant bliss!

    Anyway, don’t feel bad. I’m sure I would have done the same thing in that situation. I took her on a plane when she was 4 weeks old and she didn’t have a carseat then!!

  20. This is a weekly conversation in our house. The memories of our belt-less, free-floating childhoods in the back of station wagons were wonderful. But the world has changed and so has the hammer of ingenuity. Don’t lose sleep over it but always do what makes you comfortable. If you have a weird feeling that something may happen get out of the cab and continue your stroll. A mother’s instinct is the best tool we all have. If nothing tingles than keep on truckin’ and enjoy the view.

  21. I would never never (at least I hope it will be never) allow my kids to ride without a car seat anywhere but NY. There is no choice here. And it’s not that we are hitting open roads. The cabs are slow… I don’t do it every day but I do it often enough not to think about it when I do it.

  22. I agree with a lot of what Audrey commented.

    I’ve skipped the car seat many times when on vacation or in cabs.

    As to whether all these seatbelt and car seat laws are good, I don’t know the statistical data. I do know my own experience: as a teenager, pre-seatbelt law, I was a passenger in the front seat of a car that was broadsided on the front passenger’s side. I was not wearing the seatbelt. I am so thankful for that because the car collapsed/was pushed inward in the collision on the front passenger side (I was thrown across into the driver’s seat). Had I been “stuck” in my seat by the seatbelt, I’d probably be dead, pierced by all the metal of the car’s frame & door that ended up in the seat area I had been sitting in. So, I tend to think that it cuts both ways: sometimes & in some cases, one is better off with the car seat or seatbelt, and in others without. Since we obviously can’t predict what will happen, we can’t know when or when not to use/wear the carseat/seatbelt, so we just have to live our life and enjoy it for what we’ve got. For you that day, the best path was a taxi ride. You did nothing “bad” or “wrong”. Don’t loose sleep over it.

  23. I only have one baby, an 8 month old and have made some car seat gaffes myself. Like you said, living in NYC it’s not like we’re walking around carrying car seats on our shoulders.

    Although we do keep a car here in Brooklyn I have ridden in cars for very short distances with my son attached to my chest and not strapped to a car seat. I mean we can fly that way, right — so why can’t we drive that way, especially if it’s just around town?

    My son was less than a week old when I made my first and so far only regrettable car seat mistake. You can read it here:

    http://www.alotofloves.com/2011/03/cruising-with-my-newborn-in-a-convertible-car-seat.html

  24. I’m one of those who would never let my kids ride without being in their car seat. However, as others have pointed out, I live in suburbia where that is the law and I’m a total rule follower. The way I see it, when you are riding in a NYC cab, you really aren’t going that fast. It’s a lot of stopping and starting. And you have the law on your side. I would just keep doing what you’re doing. Like someone else said, the trains don’t have seat belts and you’re going much faster. Even school buses don’t have seat belts!

  25. Fortunately, the smart people at Freakonomics have now put your mind at ease. Car seats over the age of 2 are entirely unnecessary. Unfortunately, the revenue stream to the state is too high for them to consider loosening their grip. Plus, parenting paranoia is too entrenched…

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