Forget safety seats, why not re-design seating in the car?
One of the really awful things about modern parenthood is dealing with child safety seats and boosters.
As someone who grew up in the "hey mom, watch this!" 70's and 80's, I have an almost knee-jerk reaction to the foam-padded, glutten-free world of play dates, and sensitivity my three children are growing up in.
Car seats are awkward, difficult to install (correctly), uncomfortable to work around, and almost universally covered in a disgusting, sticky residue consisting of old gold fish crackers, apple juice, and bodily fluids.
On top of that sales pitch, child safety seats are ugly, expensive, conveniently 'expire' after a few years and its illegal to sell them used or give them away. They also seem to have an ever-shifting set of rules and regulations mandating their continued usage, and parents face steep fines if they are caught transporting children in a car without one.
That said, I do see the value in car seats, and wouldn't choose drive without one for each of my three children... up to a point. I keep seeing public service announcements extolling the absolute necessity of car seats and booster for children up to 4'9". Let that sink in a minute...Four. Foot. Nine.
My wife is 5'2", (admittedly) short, but not absurdly so. American adults are not frequently shorter than five feet, but it isn't unheard of. It causes me to question if car seats are a sub-optimal solution to the problem they address - (keeping children safe in a crash). Does the car seat solve the wrong problems?
Should we instead look at the safety features inside the car as a holistic system rather than as a list of features? Do we need to re-examine how the interior cabins and control systems of the car are configured?
Modern cars are built around engine blocks and suspension systems. The passenger cabin has been has been ruggedized as much as possible with that constraint in mind. The front of the car is the safest place for a heavy block of steel that hosts controlled explosions several times a second and spews poisonous gasses.
Over the last three decades, car manufacturers have done a good job of mitigating the risks involved in this kind of configuration - steel safety cages, shatter-proof glass, crumple zones, air bags (sounds much better than "bomb in a bag" right?), engine blocks designed to fall out in a front end collision, telescoping steering columns.... the list goes on.
I don't have the answers, but I'm wondering if emerging vehicle technologies can force design thinking that moves away from old constraints?
Electric vehicles don't require a single engine, and work even better when using several motors to drive each wheel. You can remove the engine compartment and the 30 gallon tank of explosive material in the back. You can re-design the entire passenger compartment.
"Fly-by-wire" steering systems have been used in commercial and military aircraft for twenty years, which would remove the need for the steering column or even the steering wheel (with the bag bomb in the middle).
If you want to keep kids safe? Forget about car seats, redesign the car.