Are you old enough to remember bouncing on the car seat?


Do you remember a time before seatbelts in cars? I do. Standing on the seat as a little kid, looking around and bouncing up and down (and being told by a parent to “Sit down!”).

Young parents today might find it hard to believe that people could have been so careless with their children. (We even rode bicycles without helmets — gasp!) But life was cheap back in the Middle Ages.

A favorite family story features the lack of seatbelts. The first time my Dad met his future in-laws, they all went somewhere in a car together. He and my Mom were in the back seat, and my much-younger uncle — who is only six years older than I am — was standing on the front seat between my grandparents and giving a running commentary: “Mama! Daddy! He’s touching her hand!” This did not endear him to my Dad.

I first saw a seatbelt in a car when we lived in Ecuador when I was about 9 or 10. We couldn’t take a car down there with us, so the Navy issued us a series of different vehicles to use. They were usually jeeps. But one was a brand-new station wagon, painted Navy gray of course, with the first seatbelts I’d ever seen outside of an airplane. (Yes, I had flown — in a C-47, like the guys in “Band of Brothers” — before I ever rode in a car with seatbelts.) I thought it was very space-age. I felt a little like John Glenn strapping myself into the capsule.

I was a little surprised, though, when I saw that Mandy Powers Norrell had a similar memory, even though she is 20 years younger than I am. I guess it was a matter of the age of the vehicle, rather than the age of the passenger:

So happy tonight! Mitch and I have brought my daddy’s truck home! I have so many memories as a little girl standing up barefoot in the seat, holding onto the gun rack so I wouldn’t fall down when we’d make a turn. Times sure have changed. But this truck has not changed at all!

Seatbelts? Where we're going we don't NEED seatbelts...

Seatbelts? Where we’re going we don’t NEED seatbelts…


11 thoughts on “Are you old enough to remember bouncing on the car seat?

  1. Dave Crockett

    I helped my dad INSTALL seatbelts in a 1962 Ford Falcon. There were anchors already in place on the floorboards. I later learned to drive “three-on-the-tree” in that car…. *sigh*

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      One of my best friends in high school — out in Hawaii, so it was my senior year — drove a 1960 Ford Falcon station wagon. It had straight shift. I remember a number of times we’d have to kickstart it by rolling it downhill and popping it into first gear.

      I drove a 1958 Oldsmobile 88. The chrome on it alone probably weighed as much as most cars today. The gas gauge didn’t work, so I’d calculate how much I had by the odometer, knowing I only got about five miles to the gallon. The tank would hold 20 gallons, so I’d get gas whenever I was approaching 100 miles. Which was cool, since I could fill it up for $6.

      Frequently, we’d head out on the road, each of us in his own car (like the guys in “Swingers”). If one of us saw the other car jumping as it rolled, it was a signal that “Brown Sugar” was on the radio, so the other one would skim through the radio dial until he found it, and the second vehicle would start hopping — by tapping the brake — in unison. Jeff called it “soul stomping,” although I’ve never heard anybody else call it that. I guess it was harder to do with a manual shift….

  2. Bill

    I remember too well;especially getting hit by a drunk driver and then going through the windshield of a beltless Volkswagen beetle when I was 16,but with the insurance money was able to buy an organ and get my first job in an Allman Brothers’ cover band(we weren’t bad).Five years later,I was in ANOTHER VW beltless accident(flipped 3x),and fell in love with public transportation…
    Best live band EVER!

  3. Norm Ivey

    My childhood flirtations with vehicular death came from riding in the bed of a 1970 Ford 3/4 ton pickup truck. Most of the time I sat on the wheel well, but on certain roads I was allowed to set on the rail. I cringe when I see kids in a pickup bed today.

    We had a Ford Pinto with a bad gas gauge. I learned two things pretty quickly.
    1. Go ahead and fill up now.
    2. Don’t call Daddy if you don’t follow rule #1.

  4. Norm Ivey

    My then-girlfriend-now-bride and I began wearing seatbelts of our own volition in the early 80s, maybe a year or two before it became law. I can’t say now why, exactly, except that maybe young love inspired in each of us a desire to protect the other.

  5. bud

    As an old highway safety advocate I don’t find these no-seat-belt era stories particularly endearing. Many people splattered their bodies for lack of wearing a safety belt (the more accurate term). Today’s vehicles are so much safer than they were in the 60s. Rather than wax nostalgic about a time that is best left in the best we should instead celebrate the advances we’ve made in highway safety.

  6. Jim Catoe

    My first driving experience was behind the wheel of a 1955 Packard Clipper, the so-called “poor man’s Packard.” Packard had seat belts early on, but I, being a teenager, never bothered to buckle up. The car was so massive that one had a feeling of invincibility.

    The downside to the Packard was when I went to take my first driver’s license test drive. I couldn’t squeeze the Packard into the parallel parking space. I wised up and took a Ford Falcon for my second attempt.


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