Drive long enough, and you’ll see a few “Baby on Board” signs.
Whether you consider them useful or annoying, these diamond-shaped signs have been around for decades. The Simpsons even parodied the signs, so at this point, they’re part of America’s cultural heritage.
But where did the “Baby on Board” phenomenon come from…and do the signs actually work?
The history of “Baby on Board” can be traced back to 1984.
Michael Lerner, an executive recruiter living in Boston, offered to drive his 18-month-old nephew to his sibling’s home. When Lerner merged onto the Storrow expressway, he became acutely aware of other drivers’ dangerous behaviors.
“People were tailgating me and cutting me off,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “For the first time, I felt like a parent feels when they have a kid in the car.”
Days later, one of Lerner’s friends called him with a tip; two sisters were trying to put the “Baby on Board” sign into production. Given his recent experience, Lerner agreed to help, putting together a company called Safety 1st to produce the signs.
“It ramped up real fast,” he said, noting that within its first year, the company sold 500,000 signs per month. “Around Boston, I couldn’t go down the street on a particular day without seeing one.”
Soon, parodies were popping up, including “Baby, I’m Bored” signs. Sales slipped, and Safety 1st began focusing on “True Power” wristbands, which claim to use “negative ions to speed oxygen delivery in the blood.”
“I know there’s some skepticism about the product with some people, but it really does work,” Lerner said. “It’s easy to sell a product, but it’s more meaningful to sell a product that adds value.”
“Baby on Board” signs seem to be making a comeback, and parents see them as a helpful safety feature.
The idea is that other drivers see the signs and drive more carefully. As the Huffington Post reports, there can be another benefit: In an emergency, rescue crews who see the signs will know to check the car thoroughly for child passengers.
“‘Baby On Board’ signs are useful in alerting the emergency services that a child may be involved in the event of a crash,” said Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive of Brake, a UK road safety charity.
However, Townsend adds that the signs can be problematic in some circumstances.
“This help can become a hindrance if drivers display signs when their child isn’t in the vehicle,” she said. “Worse still is the danger that can be posed by drivers obscuring their view by cluttering up windows with lots of signs.”
One survey, reported in the Telegraph, even claimed that the stickers cause 1 out of every 20 accidents in the United Kingdom. However, experts urged drivers to take those studies with a grain of salt.
“I think we have to be very careful not to draw too many conclusions from these self-reported figures,” said Robert Gifford, executive director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety. “Drivers will always try to find something else to blame than their own misjudgment. The key point to remember is that you are in charge of the car at all times and that your view should not be obscured.”