We were going to give my friend's nine-year-old daughter a ride to the campsite. But when she found out the only available seat in our packed minivan was in the front, she started to cry.
There was talk of turning off airbags, but it didn't help. She just wouldn't do it - she was convinced it wasn't safe, despite assurances from her mother.
The whole scene made my 1970s-era childhood seem like 100 years ago. I remember sitting in the front passenger seat of our Datsun 510 station wagon with no seatbelt. Usually, we kids would rattle around in the back seat like lozenges in a tin. My mother learned to drive in that car on a mountain road in the Kootenays, three kids under five in the back. "When Mommy drives, we all fall down," my five-year-old brother reported back to dad.
Later, when my parents acquired a slate-blue Chevrolet Malibu station wagon that was about a block wide and two blocks long, the spot in the middle of the sticky vinyl front bench seat between Mom and Dad was hotly contested real estate - especially by me, as a way to get away from my three brothers' ongoing backseat wrestling, kicking and elbowing.
There's little danger of any kid yelling "he's touching me" these days, though - children are kept at a clinical distance from each other via carseats, seatbelts and third-row seating (in the '70s, the latter was the cargo hold of the station wagon, where you could sprawl with your comic books).
Now if my four-year-old has a temper tantrum and pops open the chest buckle in her carseat harness while we're in motion, her six-year-old sister bursts into tears until the younger one snaps it shut or we pull over. It's like having the VicPD in the back seat.
It does make me wonder if we're making kids a little too anxious these days.
It's true that all these new safety measures have saved lives. I have a friend who still bears the childhood facial scars of hitting the windshield in those pre-five-point-harness days.
Similarly, when smoking in vehicles with kids was banned a few years ago, I was ecstatic. Through my child and teen years, I battled my father over his smoking in the car. His only concession was to open the window a crack - no more because it would reduce his gas mileage. (The no-window-opening rule applied even on a road trip through southern California in August, when it was so hot, the gum in the ashtray melted in fat rivulets. To stay cool, we had to drape ourselves in towels soaked in gas-station-washroom sinks.)
When B.C.'s no-smoking rule for cars with children came in three years ago, a colleague in his 50s told me both his parents smoked in the car when he was a kid. And drank beer. And tossed the empties into the back seat.
That might have been an extreme case.
But a friend who's a few years younger than me remembers her dad telling her: "Get in my lap and steer, kid - Daddy needs to roll a cigarette."
I don't remember ever worrying about safety in the car as a child. On roadtrips, my mother used to like to tell the tale, possibly apocryphal, about a dad who reached back to swat his fighting children and crashed the car, killing everyone. This was intended to stop us from fighting, although it never worked. It is a good argument, however, in favour of portable DVD players.
This generation of parents is certainly a lot more anxious, and we're passing it onto our kids, however unconsciously. On the bright side, perhaps it's possible to harness all these prepubescent Ã¼ber cops for the good.
If Grandpa is in the habit of not reaching for his seatbelt until he's in the middle of reversing out of the driveway - or worse, halfway down the street - by all means, bring on those toddler tantrums.
When mom starts gabbing on the cellphone behind the wheel, there's nothing like a bit of highpitched wailing to put a damper on the conversation. If Dad's had one too many brews at the barbecue before hitting the road, cue the kid alarm.
This could be a golden opportunity for police forces worried about cuts to traffic-enforcement budgets. It's free, it's loud and it's incredibly annoying.
Call it the Backseat VicPD. I have every confidence it will work.
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