Alexandra Lange | Essays

On GOOD: Why Are Car Seats So Poorly Designed?

Photo from Flickr user Joe Shlabotnik (via GOOD)

My original title for this essay: Prisoners of the Car Seat. Because the poor design of the car seat isn't just a problem for parents. It scales.

The difficulty of installing a car seat affects the market for car rentals, trains, planes, buses, and taxis. It is also hard to make it thorough childhood without purchasing three or more seats, and there are dire warnings against using a pre-owned one. If the United States is serious about moving away from fossil fuels and toward ride sharing, reuse, and public transportation, designers are going to have to solve the last mile problem … for parents. You got me on the train, now how do I get to grandma’s house?

Every time we plan a U.S. trip, the car seat becomes a major part of the conversation. Do we take ours, meaning we have to carry it, along with child, on the plane or train, install it in a strange car, vacation, tote it on the plane or train again, and reinstall in our car? Or do we take our chances at the other end with a rental car and a rental car seat—which is often dirty and, at an additional $10 per day, expensive? All cars don’t have the same belts and latches. All seats are not installed the same way. And the car rental attendants don’t help, because it is a liability issue. One tends to reach the conclusion that it would it be easier to drive, in your own car, leaving the seat in place.

Read the rest at GOOD: why parents aren't going to embrace Zipcar, a plea for industrial designers, car companies and seat manufacturers to collaborate, and, because no design article seems complete without one, the sustainability argument.
Parents spend so much money on stuff we don’t need. A car seat is something we do need. So we keep buying them, even though they're expensive, bulky, hard to install, and ugly to look at. Designers need to make them better. And then parents can make better transportation choices—for themselves and for the planet.

Posted in: Health + Safety, Product Design, Social Good

Comments [3]

Thank you Alexandra!
I live in the city of taxis and don't use them with my toddler because of the issues you outlined above. And then there is long distance travel....
I will post your essay on the parents forum to which I belong. Maybe there should be a website and a lobbying group, too.

Not only are the car seats poorly designed, the instructions are as well. I actually paid someone to install my seat properly when my daughter moved up to her next seat size. My wife went and took a course to become a certified car seat installer, and now volunteers at car seat clinics to help people make sure that their seats are installed properly. The majority of infant car fatalities are often due to improperly installed seats.
Brett Hill

Perhaps the designers of the seat have no children?

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