Why We Need An Engineer To Re-Imagine The Car Seat

While technology seems to move ahead by leaps and bounds, car seats seem to be left in the dust

I am of the age where I’ve experienced some pretty amazing technological revolutions and evolutions. My 43 inch flat screen TV is a far cry from the 20 inch Philco black and white TV we had when I was a kid. Mobile phones have become so advanced and reliable we know longer feel the need for a landline in our home. Automotive advancements continue to astound with self- driving cars at our door step. Yet when it comes to some very common and necessary items parents need and use every day… there seems to be little change other than increasing prices.

I just can't seem to wrap my head around car seats. I distinctly remember the process of buying a car seat for our first born because it was anything but simple. It was not just a seat it was a “travel system”.

Is the seat also to substitute as a baby carrier? Does the seat/carrier need to be compatible with the stroller? Can a base be bought separately to go into a 2nd vehicle? What is the weight limit, in other words how long will we actually be able to use it? Once the seat is too small does that also render the $500 stroller useless? And on it goes.

While all these choices must be made and they all come with a sizeable price tag, one would think the experience is all good going forward? Well, from my experience that too gets a big no.

In Canada we are legally required to have car seats—the hospital where my son was born would not release our baby until a nurse verified we had an adequate car seat installed in our vehicle. I don’t really have a problem with that, I want my kids to be as safe as possible while in the car. But why are these seats such a pain in the ass to install and use?

I consider myself somewhat mechanically inclined. I have built decks, repaired cars, installed sinks and taps in my house. My van has “Stow n’ Go” seats, a prime example of engineering at its best. Follow four clearly labelled steps and voila, 30 seconds later a seat is usable or folded into the floor. But in comparison, installing kids’ car seats is frustrating and primitive.

Initially I thought this was perhaps an anomaly to the one brand we chose, and my ineptness. But after purchasing two more seats of various brands and reading on-line statistics suggesting up to two thirds of car seats are incorrectly installed, this is clearly a common problem. If so many users are struggling it must be bad design.

The installation instructions are about as useful as those from my last IKEA purchase. Why is the strap used to attach to the seat anchors only adjustable on one side? I’m not a small guy but apparently I have to climb on top of the seat, perform some physical contortions, than pull with all my might with the hope of actually getting this thing tight. No wonder there are car seat clinics and professionals charging to install these seats. I’ve spoken to police officers who’ve said they come across many improperly installed kids’ seats. Is it really the best our engineers can do? To suggest in the instructions that I use a rolled up towel or swim noodle to place under the seat to try to compensate for seat angle?

Now that the seat is installed could we perhaps work on a harness that can be buckled twice in a row without the straps magically twisting? And just maybe have a buckle that doesn’t require herculean strength to release? I understand it needs to be kid proof but could we try to find a happy medium?

And while we are on the topic of the harness, how about inventing one that will work with a snow suit? In my part of the world -20 is not uncommon, but now I’m supposed take the kids snow suit off before putting them into the car, while not wasting energy by letting the vehicle idle to warm up. Seriously?

Perhaps your kids are incredibly coordinated or you don’t let them eat or drink in the car, but in our case the car seats get dirty from spills and accidents. When I looked at the skin or cover I saw wonderful elastic straps holding it in place on the plastic frame. Is it overly optimistic to think this cover could be easily removed for washing? Apparently yes, after removing the seat from the car to achieve said cleaning, I discovered the seat cover could ALMOST be removed…but not quite. Yep that’s right. Not only could I NOT remove the cloth cover for cleaning….I now had to reinstall the seat into the car!

Okay, so perhaps I have embellished my anguish and yes these are clearly first world problems. For the record, I continue to religiously use the seats. So consider this a shout out to all the engineers out there—who’s up to the challenge to make these important items a little more user friendly? 

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