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Seatbelts and old cars


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My wife and I are planning to go on the Glidden Tour  this fall. I was told she would feel much safer if I installed seatbelts in our 1931 Buick Sport coupe.  I have concerns with fastening them to the wood frame under the seat. There is not a good place on the frame to attach them. I have looked at lots of videos and it looks like most are just fastened to the floor pans with big washers in later cars. I am looking for thoughts for guidance, or if this is even a good idea.

Thanks Dave

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Have personally worn seat belts since the early 60s mainly to keep myself in place if sudden manoever is needed (and the passenger out of my lap). Big washers are good for bracing but man purpose is to stay behind the wheel during an incident.

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There is a lot of engineering that goes in to safety systems to actually lower chance of injury.   Belts installed in a car that wasn't designed for them is probably of limited benefit and potentially negative benefit. 

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Doing a search for "seatbelts" on this site will get you 22 pages of discussion.  I am sure some of the previous posters and new ones will reply here but it would be good to skim the previous threads.

 

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Placing seatbelts on a wooden coach built car is of no value, and probably a detriment. In a serious crash, the body will separate from the frame........attach the belts to the frame.......your dead in a very ugly manner. Attached to the wood.........you may or may not stay with the splinters and tin tossing down the street. Your better off with nothing and taking you chances of being thrown clear. Better yet......avoid all risks that you can, drive defensively, use your head. Much better and safer than belts in an old car.

Edited by edinmass (see edit history)
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Hey Dave,

Clearly there are two camps on this issue.

I believe, with the early cars, that if one were in a high speed head on collision, chances of the driver being impaled on the steering column and the passenger exiting through the windshield are pretty high.

However if the accident were at a lower speed and/or not head on (as is usually the case), there is a very high probability of one (or both) of the doors popping open on cars from the 1930's/40's. This is when people tend to fall out of the earlier cars and get seriously injured.

The safety "double grip" door latches common today, weren't introduced until 1955, by Ford as part of their Lifeguard Safety package. They spent a couple million to determine that most major injuries/deaths occurred from people being ejected from the car on impact because of the poor door latch design.

I'm afraid being thrown clear, without major injury, would be stressing providence to the limit.

Consider this, all of the modern safety systems are designed to keep the occupants inside the vehicle during a crash for the highest chance of survival. Even Aston Martin has opted to use 8 airbags and a pretensioner seatbelt system to restrain passengers inside their cars, when obviously they could have plagiarized MI-5's ejection seats to expel occupants into the surrounding environment in hopes of maybe landing in the back of an open bed truck hauling a new load of Sealy Posturepedics. I would think, while anything is possible, the chances of this actually happening are less than stellar.

I say find a way to anchor to the frame and install the seatbelts.

Good luck whatever you decide.

Greg

mattress.png

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4 hours ago, GregLaR said:

I say find a way to anchor to the frame and install the seatbelts.

 

That's what scared us most when we discussed seat belts in the 1929 Cadillac when our boys were very little--the steel chassis is really the only secure place to anchor a seat belt in a wood-framed car. In a crash hard enough to make seat belts something you might need, I would also worry that a few of the eight or ten bolts holding the body to the frame would let go. Maybe the body doesn't come off the frame, but it will probably move. If you're in the body but you're belted to the frame, well, I'll let you imagine what happens next...

 

The best way to be safe in a car of this vintage is to drive smart, make sure your suspension, brakes, and steering are fit, your tires are recent, and treat everyone else on the road like they're intentionally trying to kill you. We came to the realization that if that Cadillac is in a wreck hard enough for us to wish for seat belts, we're already dead anyway because it's going to come apart in absolutely spectacular fashion.

 

Sadly, there's also the consideration of liability. If you install seat belts and then sell the car to someone who dies using them, guess who will have to hire a lawyer to defend against it? We are frequently asked to install seat belts in old cars that we sell. My answer? No f*cking way.

 

Truthfully, do what makes you and your wife feel safest. If belts do that, then use them and secure them any way you can. Serious crashes in old cars are very, very rare and there isn't much data on what happens to the bodies inside, so most of this is speculation. There are terrible stories and slightly less terrible stories with survivors left to tell them. No guarantees either way. Use your best judgement and be smart on the road.

 

 

Edited by Matt Harwood (see edit history)
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I am very much so in the camp of not adding seatbelts in a vehicle not designed to have them. 
 

Most arguments you hear either way are completely situational... you do not know what kind of accident you may have. You do know that massive teams of engineers with degrees in multiple disciplines design safety systems because you could just as easily create something that adds danger rather than removing it. 
 

I have installed belts in the rear of nearly everything, for the purpose of attaching a child’s car seat... I attach the child to the car seat and the car seat to the car. 
 

If you install them anyways... to the body near the seat. To the frame sounds like a horrible plan that wouldn’t take much of an accident to kill you. 

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2 minutes ago, gossp said:

I am very much so in the camp of not adding seatbelts in a vehicle not designed to have them. 

 

I would tend to agree with this statement.  At some point I read the viewpoint of an automotive engineer on retrofit of seatbelts, and he basically said the same thing, if the car isn't designed for them then they may do more harm than good.

 

I can see the argument of staying in place for control during a minor collision.  In that case, I'd want a seat belt minimally attached to the car, so that if the seat broke loose so would the belt.

 

As to liability, I've had people ask me to cut and resew retrofitted seat belts, so that they weren't too long for their car.  Answer is always no, and it's all about liability.....

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I was going to add my opinion on the subject saying that everyone's opinion on the subject is just uninformed opinion. Then I realized that my opinion was just uninformed opinion so I won't comment...........Bob

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So if you add seat belts to a wood bodies car then a large flat washer on the bottom to add holding strength and a large flat washer on top to clamp the body to the frame ?

As mentioned I have always felt seat belts to be as important for accident avoidance as restraint in an accident. When racing/autocrossing I preferred a five point harness pulled as tight as it would go.

And airbags: they are most effective for people who refuse to wear seat belts.

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I'm kind of with padgett and Greg. I put seat belts in my old cars mostly for the benefit of my small children so they wouldn't go bouncing around the interior in case of impact/rollover. (In the case of kids, there may be a legal requirement, too. I'm not sure.)

But I have metal pans on my cars and they're from the 50's and 60's. They're only lap belts, so not as  safe as three point belts, but as Greg implies, while they may not help in devastating catastrophic accidents, they may provide protection at lower speeds.

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Only way seat belts are completely safe in an older car never intended for them is if you properly install a roll bar and mount the seat belt to the roll bar.

Besides that, a roll bar is the only way you're going to properly secure a 5-point harness, anyway.

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‘53 Chrysler over here. Body is bolted to frame. I installed 4 lap belts. Drilled thru body and used large washers on the back side. Rarely does the car go above 40mph. Probably 95% of my driving is in town on small roads. The lap belts, I gotta believe, offer some type of additional support.

 

They might keep the steering wheel out of my teeth. My wife’s face out of the glove box. The back passengers don’t need their eyeballs inside the ashtray that is mounted in the back of the front seat.  I can’t quite grasp why the seatbelts would not help me and my passengers. If the body comes off the frame, we’re all going with it. Head-on collision at 40 mph with another car going 40? I’d be inclined to take the seat belt every time over nothing. 

Edited by keithb7 (see edit history)
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A quick look under the body and under the carpet of some of these cars would tell the story.

 

A 53 Chrysler is a steel body with a steel floor. That is an entirely different situation than a wooden framed body built on sills. The Chrysler, with some gusseting to spread the load out, would probably keep the belts attached to the floor. The body probably won't come off of the frame.

 

The wood body probably has a piece of "floorpan", about as thick as the top of a tin can, nailed from the top into some 80 or 90 year old sticks. The body is probably attached to the frame with about 6 or 8 little carriage bolts through that same old wood.

 

This is shaping up to be like one of those threads where someone has a problem with a car title, and it garners responses from several States, Provinces, and Countries, all of which have different title law.

 

 

 

Edited by Bloo (see edit history)
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6 hours ago, Matt Harwood said:

I would also worry that a few of the eight or ten bolts holding the body to the frame would let go.

Matt,

Your point is taken in this instance. If the car is hit hard enough to break the body free from the frame the seat belts could prove to be a detriment. However an impact of that magnitude, in a car with a steel dashboard and non-collapsing column would probably be unsurvivable for most occupants with or without belts. 

 

The best way to be safe in a car of this vintage is to drive smart, make sure your suspension, brakes, and steering are fit, your tires are recent, and treat everyone else on the road like they're intentionally trying to kill you. 

In the best of all possible worlds this would be the answer. I find almost every vintage car owner/driver I know is cautious and courteous on the road.  But wish as we might, this will not protect us from the fast and furious, inexperienced driver, street racing or texting in his 10 year old Toyota. 

 

Again, at a lower speed impact, which is more likely, the addition of belts could save, at minimum, some nasty facial injuries to driver, passenger and certainly smaller children bouncing around in there. 

Of course this is just my opinion and it holds no more weight than any others here.

Cheers

 

 

 

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What wood-framed cars crashing might look like. Note that neither body is still in place on its frame but the sheetmetal isn't seriously bent, particularly the roofs. I would guess that this crash took place at less than 30 MPH given the city environment and relatively unbent bodywork.

1e7a-20131016-Crash-Lead.jpg-resize_then

 

I also don't understand how lap belts will keep your face off the dashboard or the steering column out of your chest, even assuming the belts stay attached wherever they've been anchored. You will note that this photo shows a vehicle with professionally engineered OEM-grade seat belts,a dummy the size and weight of a child not an adult, and happened at less than 30 MPH:

still_clip.gif

 

There's no debate here. You should do whatever makes you feel safest because there's no right or wrong answer. There's not enough evidence in any direction to draw any conclusions of any kind. There are logical arguments to be made for all of the things we're discussing and nobody is wrong. The good news is that severe accidents in old cars don't happen often enough for us to draw conclusions and we should all be very happy about that.

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1 hour ago, Bloo said:

This is shaping up to be like one of those threads where someone has a problem with a car title, and it garners responses from several States, Provinces, and Countries, all of which have different title law.

 

 

 


Not sure if this is pointed at me. If people generalized their comments less and offered more details the thread could stay on point. Which is exactly why I specifically stated my car’s year and make.  
 

General statements made about seat belts causing more harm than good covers pretty broad range of cars built over a 70 year span. 

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On a different note entirely, the picture you posted Matt is very interesting. The more I examined it the stranger it seemed. The background appears to be a painted montage while the observers are all in a relatively neat line, almost as casual spectators, some with arms folded. There doesn't seem to be any alarm registered. The car's impact is so fresh the smoke and steam hasn't cleared, yet both cars look to have no occupants. I'm wondering if this was some type of staged incident, perhaps by an auto manufacturer, tire company, or...?

It's intriguing, do you happen to know the source of this pic?

 

20131016-Crash-Lead.jpg

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3 hours ago, keithb7 said:

Not sure if this is pointed at me.

 

It's not pointed at anyone, least of all you. It's just an observation about how some threads around here go in circles with no clear answer. Best regards..

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Most old wood bodied GM cars are fastened with 7/16x14 carriage bolts. My Olds has 10 of them with the front cowl a standard hex head bolt. Today, they use 7/16x14 bolts, yup, same size.  Well maybe not the brand new cars but even in the 90’s that’s what they used.  My 83’ Blazer has 8 or10 of them also. Running the belts to the main sill and a good cross sill or even a doubler on a cross sill will hold you and your children in your seat on a low speed hit. In a high speed hit, if the body were to come off, you would go with it. I looked at old car accident photos and didn’t see many bodies detached from the chassis including cars flipped right over, t boned, etc. Now, there’s a big difference in a restored, fully re-wooded bodied and an original wood body too. 

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2 hours ago, GregLaR said:

On a different note entirely, the picture you posted Matt is very interesting. The more I examined it the stranger it seemed. The background appears to be a painted montage while the observers are all in a relatively neat line, almost as casual spectators, some with arms folded. There doesn't seem to be any alarm registered. The car's impact is so fresh the smoke and steam hasn't cleared, yet both cars look to have no occupants. I'm wondering if this was some type of staged incident, perhaps by an auto manufacturer, tire company, or...?

It's intriguing, do you happen to know the source of this pic?

 

 

My Canadian wife recognizes it as the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition) grounds in Toronto because some of those unusual murals are still there. You can also see tents in the background like at a fair. It kind of looks like someone climbing in or out (or being pulled out) of the driver's seat of the car on the left, but it's hard to be sure. I think this is some time after the crash, since there's sand on the ground which was probably to smother any flames and to absorb/cover spilled fluids. The radiators would probably steam for a good long time, especially if it was only a smallish leak. Or maybe it's smoke from a smoldering fire that's been doused. Hard to say. Are they the same make and model of car? The wheels and belt moldings are very similar--if so, that might suggest this wasn't an average accident and perhaps staged.

 

I just thought it was a good example of how the bodies on old cars can come off the frame in even low-speed accidents that don't show a lot of other trauma like badly wrinkled bodywork. I'm pretty sure that car on the right is exactly what my 1929 Cadillac would look like in an accident with a modern car of any kind at any speed above a walking pace, and like the car on the left at any speed above 30 MPH.

 

There's no right or wrong when it comes to safety in old cars; everyone should just do what makes them feel comfortable. We agonized over this decision for a long, long time with young children and ultimately decided that if worse came to worst, untethered gave them the best shot. Who knows if we're right and I hope we never find out.

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On 2/13/2020 at 5:57 PM, dbdave26 said:

My wife and I are planning to go on the Glidden Tour  this fall. I was told she would feel much safer if I installed seatbelts in our 1931 Buick Sport coupe.  I have concerns with fastening them to the wood frame under the seat. There is not a good place on the frame to attach them. I have looked at lots of videos and it looks like most are just fastened to the floor pans with big washers in later cars. I am looking for thoughts for guidance, or if this is even a good idea.

Thanks Dave

My two cents:

I have an off-topic, 88 year old, open (Roadster) 2 passenger vintage (sports) car that I've driven tens of thousands of miles in past 30 years, including several multi-thousand mile road trips and use it couple of times a month for spirited drives on twisty mountain roads with speeds often exceeding 60-70 mph.

It does have 60+ years old, vintage aircraft style lap belts, but I'm fully aware of their potential ineffectiveness and tell anyone riding with me, that seatbelts in a vehicle of this kind, even if they were the most modern racing type will likely offer no safety benefits in case of a serious accident or crash.

Edited by TTR (see edit history)
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Thanks guys. I didn't mean to  stir up a hornet's nest. I had my own thoughts both ways, which is why I sought out other opinions. I'll have the boss read through this and we'll have our own discussion. I really enjoy this forum. Keep up the great work!!

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It might vary by state/province/country. Yes, you might have to do that to satisfy local laws or placate family members. Sometimes appearance matters. For instance, unless something has changed in recent times, you are required windshield wipers in Washington State. You are not required a windshield.

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I sometimes try to stay out of these discussions because they are so motivated by bad laws and passions not considering real science. 

However, I would no more want to put seat belts in many open antique automobiles, and most certainly NOT my open era racing car, than I would recommend them used on a motorcycle! In solid enclosed type body styles? There MAY be some arguments in favor of them. However, the added safety is negligible at best. there MAY be some benefit to restraining children these days that have not been taught to mind their parents or grandparents.

Open cars? Consider being belted onto a motorcycle flipping and tumbling along at fifty miles per hour before adding seat belts. Probably better to risk being thrown free?

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without intending any comment on the advisability, I do not believe any US state requires retrofitting safety equipment  that was not required at the car's date of manufacture.  Includes directionals, safety glass, seat belts.  Doesn't mean you can't decide it's a good idea.

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1 hour ago, bryankazmer said:

without intending any comment on the advisability, I do not believe any US state requires retrofitting safety equipment  that was not required at the car's date of manufacture.  Includes directionals, safety glass, seat belts.  Doesn't mean you can't decide it's a good idea.


I don’t know if the laws are still on the books, but at one point I believe KY Or TN required them to be added. I do not believe enforcement of this happened. I just recall the conversation on a tour. 

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9 hours ago, ted sweet said:

if law is followed in nys nobody under 18 is allowed in a vehiles while not using a seat belt

 

Only if the vehicle was so equipped from the factory.

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Many formula cars had no seatbelts because the cockpit was so tight there would be no way to fasten them, they were literally "cars you wore". And the reclining, arms out position was not for comfort, rather aerodynamics - minimal height and ares out meant no need to accommodate elbows.

 

Did have a belt snap once and was ejected. Good thing because the E-type was in a high speed roll. Still always wear seat belts.

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For many decades I owned and drove a 1931 Franklin with a Derham body. When I married and had a son we wanted him along and not just to put a car seat in the back seat and let it float at will! I put seat belts back there to strap the car seat in with. Yes, the Franklin had wood floor boards. What I did was take a 1/4 to 3/8 inch steel plate about 6 inches square and drill a hole at the center to let the bolt ( 3/4 inch or larger) ) to fit through. I sandwiched the steel plates on top and below the wood floor boards and then bolted the seat belts in. Sure I had a hole in the floor boards now but that was covered by carpet.

One can argue that sure the car had wood body framing, alloy sheet metal etc. but the chance of getting t boned or broadsided enough to roll the car over on its side or several times was the chance you have to take - even in a modern car! Never had an issue in thousands of miles.

Just an observation and solution I felt comfortable with  . If you intend to add seat belts ( lap belts) on a car with wood floor boards then use steel plates on both sides of the wood.

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I have always had cars wirh suicide doors and install seat belts in all of them.  I'm not a NASCAR racer, nor do I drive on super highways or speedways in my antique car.  I wear seat belts to keep me in the car.   (On the 1998 Glidden Tour at Mt. Washington NH,  we stopped for gas and on leaving the gas station, when I got to 50 MPH and the drivers door flew open.   Damaged the car, but not me;.) 

 55 ears ago I rode in a small car in a test of seat belts at my Air Force Base.  The car rolled down a ramp at 5 MPH and hit a stop.   Force was great enough at 5 MPH for me to always have seat belts in all my cars.

Edited by Paul Dobbin (see edit history)
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Here's my thoughts; Fastened to the wood body/ floor boards you are a passenger in the body as it flying from the frame not good   or you fastened to the frame you have the body flying off and it's trying to pull you off with it not good.   Mike 

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6 hours ago, ted sweet said:

thats not what nys says. no mention of an exemption for old cars

 

Refer to the 5th bullet below -- 1964 and older are exempt.

Highlights of New York State's occupant restraint law:

  • In the front seat, the driver and each passenger must wear a seat belt, one person per belt. The driver and front-seat passengers aged 16 or older can be fined up to $50 each for failure to buckle up.
  • Every occupant, regardless of age or seating position, of a motor vehicle being operated by the holder of a Class-DJ Learner Permit, a Limited Class-DJ, or Class-DJ Driver License must be restrained by a safety restraint.
  • Each passenger under age 16 must wear a seat belt or use an appropriate child safety restraint system. The restraint system must comply with the child height and weight recommendations determined by the manufacturer. Depending on the size of the child, the restraint system may be a safety seat or a booster seat used in combination with a lap and shoulder belt.
  • The driver must make sure that each passenger under age 16 obeys the law. The driver can be fined $25 to $100 and receive three driver license penalty points for each violation.
  • Seat belt use is not required in emergency vehicles, 1964 or older vehicles, or by passengers in buses other than school buses (seat belt use may be required by the school district). Rural letter Carriers are also exempt while they are delivering mail.
  • Effective November 1, 2017, the driver and each front seat passenger aged 16 or older must wear a seat belt in taxi and livery vehicles.

 

https://dmv.ny.gov/brochure/new-york-states-occupant-restraint-law

Edited by EmTee (see edit history)
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The rules are different here:

Florida law requires the use of safety belts for all drivers and passengers in all motorized vehicles, except:

  • A person certified with a physician as having a medical condition that causes seat belt use to be inappropriate or dangerous. (Keep a copy of certification while driving/being driven).
  • Employee of a newspaper home delivery service while delivering newspapers.
  • School buses purchased new prior to December 31, 2000.
  • Buses used for transportation of persons for compensation.
  • Farm equipment.
  • Trucks of a net weight of more than 26,000 pounds.

https://www.flhsmv.gov/safety-center/vehicle-safety/buckle-up-florida-its-the-law/

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4 hours ago, padgett said:

The rules are different here:

Florida law requires the use of safety belts for all drivers and passengers in all motorized vehicles, except:

  • A person certified with a physician as having a medical condition that causes seat belt use to be inappropriate or dangerous. (Keep a copy of certification while driving/being driven).
  • Employee of a newspaper home delivery service while delivering newspapers.
  • School buses purchased new prior to December 31, 2000.
  • Buses used for transportation of persons for compensation.
  • Farm equipment.
  • Trucks of a net weight of more than 26,000 pounds.

https://www.flhsmv.gov/safety-center/vehicle-safety/buckle-up-florida-its-the-law/

 

While I read the link that Mr P provided I don't think that the State of Florida can make an owner install seat belts in a vehicle that did not have them when new, I think it was an oversight by the author..  In Florida for those who might not know there is no state inspection safety or emission. So if seat belt installation was mandatory there is no way for the state to police it. As a part time resident of Florida for the past 10 years I have seen some of the biggest pieces of junk on the road in the State of Florida. Vehicles that are just unsafe, and if there was just a safety inspection those vehicles would be off the road.

 

Going back to original topic, I am in the process now of looking into seat belts for my son's 53 Chevy to secure car seats. Modern car seats seem to require modern restraint systems  

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