Backseat Driver: The Car Seat Conundrum
Posted March 29, 2010on:
Nobody ever knows what to get for a car seat. There are a surprising number of options from mainstream and specialty manufacturers. The car has become, after all, an extension of our homes, and the infant car seat in particular, an extension of baby’s crib, in itself an extension of mother’s womb.
It’s unfortunately also not a decision you get to just make once. Every year in your new family’s life, it seems, there’s something – - the infant bucket, the convertible seat (many of which can support infants, just not outside the car), the booster seat… God forbid you add to the family while still using the convertible…do you get another for a matching set? Or re-evaluate the market once more based on a new decision set? Chances are you have beefs with the current seat – everybody does… Want to fit even a waif-like adult in the back middle seat? Good luck…
In the past decade, we’ve seen the landscape change quite a bit, with car seats becoming both functionally simpler, and more technologically complex. Government and the private sector came together in 2002 to implement the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system across subsequently manufactured car seats and automobiles. This universal latch and bar system takes some of the skill and stress out of installing or removing seats, although many parents still choose to work with local agencies or accredited retail stores for installation assistance. Regulatory and Consumer Advocacy groups (and States) continue to raise the bar on required and recommended height/weight/age of children in boosters and car seats, driving technical specs into new territory as engineers stretch to accommodate bigger passengers. Bulky plastic shells are being downsized in favor of alternate structures drawn from sectors like aerospace that afford a smaller footprint with equivalent (or better) protection.
Truly, it’s not just about the seat any more. Some stroller manufacturers like Orbit Baby are designing new systems for baby transportation, including car seats in their line-up. Others are designing-in exclusive stroller compatibility with a few other brands. Locking in some of these variables has enabled some interesting new features – for example, Orbit’s ability to rotate 360 degrees on the car seat base, vastly improving back-seat ergonomics at loading/unloading time. Orbit’s car seat meets or exceeds safety standards, and also boasts environmentally-friendly fabrics and materials – but it has other limitations, being notoriously heavy, not to mention expensive.
Car seats, like cribs, strollers, high chairs, and even play yards, have become a lifestyle choice. Everyone wants a safe car seat – it’s what you want next (and how much you have to spend) that drives the ultimate purchase.
We’ll go in-depth with some product reviews and recommendations in another installment (interestingly, our top picks are not those pictured above). But for now, take heart that we won’t ask you to choose between chartreuse or vermillion – because with a Maxi-Cosi Mico in Breen by GAP, you *can* have both.