Alexandra Lange | Essays

Fix the Car Seat

Last week Tom Vanderbilt posted a photo of the Kiddee Drivette on his How We Drive blog, a product from the good old days when kids rode up front, had their own “not noisy” horns, and were restrained with one small woven strap. Heck, my mother spent her early years in the back of a Jeep so primitive my grandmother had to open the door to indicate turns with her arm.

But what attracted my attention was his “exasperated straining and stretching” as he transferred his infant car seat from car to car. Having just returned from a vacation where the logistics of the car seat were a primary part of trip planning, I have a plea on behalf of all parents, and a challenge for industrial and car designers: FIX THE CAR SEAT.

What I want is a universal docking system, across all car models, across all car seat manufacturers. Two mounts, in the seat of every car, that match to two “feet” on the base of every car seat, from infant to booster. To take my seat out, I push a button to unlock the mounts. To install my seat, I center it over the mounts, press down, and hear a satisfying CLICK. If necessary, a tether in back to a prominent metal loop.

That means, no hunting for LATCH mounts in every different car. No attempt to fit in your child car seat while feeding the seatbelt back into its hole. (Why don’t they ever fully retract?) No need for a sticky mat on leather seats. No need for a foam roll or two to get your infant at the correct neck angle while rear facing. No panicky attempt to figure out where to put your now-sleepy toddler after a six-hour flight while in the dark rental car parking lot as you figure out all of the above.

No debate about whether it is better to bring your own car seat as an extra piece of 15-pound luggage, because at least you know how to install it, rather than use one of the rental car seats (minimum $8.95 per day), which might be unfamiliar, or dirty, or the wrong size. I’ve had the 20-something male rental car attendants bring me two or three seats before we ended up with the right one, me reading the tiny print on height and weight restrictions, again, in the parking lot. They don’t help you install, because it is a liability issue.

I think my family would sign up with Zipcar tomorrow if we weren’t anxious about having to install the car seat in a different car every time. On vacation, my father couldn’t zip off with my son for ice cream in his car, because I didn’t want to move the seat from place to place. Once it is in, it is in for life. The infant car seat, the category-killing Graco Snugride, is actually easier than any of the others. For a blissful nine months, we could actually take a cab.

Parents spend so much money on stuff they don’t need. A car seat is something we do need. Designers need to make them better.

Posted in: Health + Safety, Product Design

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