Ads #21: What's a Seat Belt?

I don't think I knew what a seat belt was until I was 15. In fact, I don't know if any cars my family owned even had any. The seat belt situation wasn't any better in the cars of my friends or cousins. My grandparents had some in their old Cadillac, but they were buried in the backseat cushion and probably weren't operational anyway.

Bill Bryson's excellent book The Thunderbolt Kid describes his experience driving across the country sitting on the edge of the open back door of their station wagon! I personally spent many a trip cozy in the back floorboard of our car, or sleeping like a baby in a sleeping bag in the back of a van. Meanwhile, my little brother would be sitting comfortably on my mom's lap in the front seat.

Balanced on top of a moving vehicle, as in the picture above, is a bit extreme. However, I've heard plenty of similar stories of safety belt neglect from people my age. I guess it was a good thing things changed, but it sure is less comfortable and inconvenient with kids. Ignorance is bliss.

And since I've got a disturbingly unsafe Portuguese ad at the top of this post, I may as well put up another equally horrifying example of 1970's Brazilian unsafety in advertising.

Believe it or not, this is not an anti drinking and driving ad - quite the opposite. My Portuguese is bad, but this translates to something like “We are launching another indespensable equipment for the summer - Eaton air conditioning for automobiles”. I guess we are to assume your frosty mug of beer will now stay cool while you drive. Hooray!

[Note: This post was expanded from two earlier posts on Retrospace Zeta found here and here]


  1. I have many memories of being packed in the back of a staion wagon with my brothers and sisters and don't recall using seat belts. These days I can get pulled over and ticketed if someone sees that my 10 year old is not in a car seat and wearing a helmet. I'm all for safetly, but I miss those days.

  2. The first time I ever fastened a seat was in drivers ed in high school. Our family cars never had belts. Like Chaka, we just piled kids in the car and lived through it.

  3. I remember seatbelts in some of our cars growing up, they were those things we stuffed down the crack between the seat back/bottom to get them out of the way.

    Sometimes my dad would drop the tailgate of the station wagon, my sister & I would sit on it facing backwards & he'd drive down a nearby dirt road.

    Also my uncle would drive us around in his convertible with the top down, my cousins & I sitting on the trunk. Later, he had a VW camper, we'd see who could stay standing in the back the longest as he drove down a twisty road.

    Somehow, we all made it to adulthood alive and unmaimed!

  4. Hell, I remember, as a toddler, standing between my parents' bucket seats in the front of their Rambler as we drove downtown.

    And I can't count how many times my friends and I would pile into the back of dad's pickup truck to go to Burger King, the mall, fishing, wherever. (It did have a cap, but still...)

  5. I don't think I ever fastened a seat belt until I took driver's ed.

  6. The closest thing I had to a car seat when I was a baby was one of those plastic ones with the steering wheel (like the one that Maggie's in in the intro to "The Simpsons").

    My brother-in-law showed us a picture that was taken the day he came home from the hospital after he was born- his mom is sitting in the front seat, no seat belt, holding him in her arms. Both she and his father are smoking cigarettes, too. It's very "Mad Men".