Once upon a time back in the 60s and 70s, seat belts in cars were just an unwanted accessory, kids and adults alike weren’t required to wear them, and nobody batted an eye when parents smoked in the car with minors.
It’s hard to imagine today how these things were ever considered acceptable, and it’s even harder to imagine how any of the kids who grew up from those decades, actually made it out alive. So for the sake of taking a little stroll down Memory Lane, we take you back to a time before safety regulations, consumer product testing, technology advancements, and run of the mill, common sense.
Here are seven things that millennials may not recognise about car trips from decades past.
Kids these days most likely grew up with catchy government advertising jingles like “Click clack, front ‘n’ back” to help them remember to wear seat belts, but back in the 60s and 70s, kids may not have even known what these black straps were, let alone remember to use them. Back then, fewer cars were fitted with seatbelts as standard, and if they were installed, they usually ended up wedged down in between the seat cushions.
Compulsory state laws requiring people to wear them only came into effect at the beginning of the 70s, and even then, some state laws did not apply to children under a certain age.
Not having the constraint of seat belts meant kids of these past decades were almost completely untethered and could sit wherever they wanted to, especially seeing as most cars had the simple bench seat for the front and back. No spot was more coveted then riding up the front with mum or dad, getting to play with the simple car radio, or maybe even getting to sit on mum or dad’s lap as they drove. And when the bench seats got packed out, kids usually got shafted to the wide-open space at the back of the station wagon, ready to roll from side to side, depending on the skill of the driver.
When car seats started to be designed and sold in Australia in the 1960s, there was very little information and research done and available to the public, so they were not fully embraced. It took around another ten years for people to start taking a closer look at child and infant safety in the car, but even then, today’s parents would be shocked at what was once deemed safe for the little ones during the 70s. Take the above photo as an example, I don’t see any 5-point harness or side impact protection features here.
Way before we actually knew the dangers and health problems related to smoking, and in particular ‘second hand’ smoking, it was perfectly normal to see your parents or other adults light up a cigarette whilst driving. Instead of cup holders and USB slots, cars had a built-in ashtray and an electric lighter ready on hand.
Today, it’s now illegal to smoke if there’s a minor under the age of 16 (18 in some states) in the car when driving in Australia. It’s also illegal to flick your butt out the window, so kids or no kids, maybe this one habit is better off left where it belongs — in the past.
Like many other facets of life for kids who grew up during the 60s and 70s — before technology became the main source of entertainment — kids had to make up their own fun, and car trips were no exception. Game’s like ‘I Spy’ and ‘Punch Buggy’ kept kids busy for hours on end during long car trips before the iPad or even the Game Boy were ever invented.
We’re not entirely sure who came up with the game ‘Punch Buggy’, but whoever it was, they are solely responsible for decades worth of dead arms given by siblings. After all, nothing says ‘family bonding’ than using seeing a Volkswagen on the road as an excuse to punch each other.
Back in the 60s and early 70s, both hitching a ride and picking up hitchhikers were perfectly normal. And no, it wasn’t just the hippies siding the road with their thumbs up, young adults and transients alike were all in for free rides with complete strangers too.
Whilst it’s still perfectly legal to hitchhike in Australia, that is if you don’t obstruct traffic by soliciting a ride from within a roadway, but rather, a footpath, it’s no doubt less common to see this nowadays and even less common is the likelihood of drivers actually picking them up. So what was it exactly that lead people to give hitchhiking the thumbs down? Perhaps it was all of those horror films featuring psychopathic hitchhikers? Whatever it was, we’re quite certain the infamous Aussie Ivan Milat didn’t help the case either.
Whilst family road trips today still require some planning, it does not compare to how thought out it had to be during the decades past. Firstly, there were no signs every ten minutes or so signalling a fast food chain pitstop, offering mid-trip meals and bathroom breaks — instead, meals were often pre-made by mum, and there were no ifs or buts about it. The ever so important question of whether or not the kids needed to go to the toilet before getting in the car was also taken far more seriously back then, as it may have literally been hours until they were able to go again. Secondly, there were no GPS navigations systems fixed to the windscreen or Google Maps open on a mobile — instead, parents had to jot down the exact route to their destination on a physical paper map, and from there, it was up to the assigned navigator to trace the map with their finger and wish for the best.