Front passenger air bags have been responsible for at least 180 child deaths over the years, many of which occurred in situations which would have been avoided if the child had been riding in the back. Volvo’s new concept vehicle, though, imagines putting a rear-facing child seat right in the front of the car by jettisoning the front passenger airbag and putting a parent in back. And the Swedish car maker says it’s probably safer for your child than the car seat you’re already using.
Volvo’s concept is built atop their flagship luxury crossover XC90, a car not specifically designed to appeal to parents—or at least not to those who think of themselves as parents exclusively. The idea is to remove the passenger’s seat and replace it with a flexible, adjustable console so that riders in the back can put their feet up, use it as a work desk, and so on. If the office of the future is the driverless car then the XC90 is a small step towards that for people who just can’t wait for autonomous vehicles to hit the market already. (Provided they have a chauffeur.)
But the XC90’s implementation of a child seat is interesting enough to call out. At first, the idea of putting a rear-facing child seat up front seems dangerous and counterintuitive (our dad-in-resident Mark Wilson was openly horrified), but Volvo’s child safety expert Lotta Jakobsson swears its safe. In fact, she tells me it’s safer than most aftermarket child seats. “It’s important to emphasize the fact that this isn’t the same as just putting a child seat in the front of your car,” she says in a phone interview. “The danger of allowing children to ride in the front seat is the front passenger airbag.” But in the XC90, the passenger airbag is totally disconnected when the child console is installed.
That alone makes it safe for a child to ride in front, and the emphasis the XC90’s design puts upon rear-facing child seats makes it even safer. Jakobbson is quick to point out that while rear-facing child seats are universally considered safer than front-facing seats, the standard configuration of most automobiles tempts parents to face their child towards the front, so they can maintain eye contact through the rear view mirror. But by putting the child seat (safely) in the front of the XC90, parents can always maintain eye contact with their kids, whether that’s a parent who is driving, or a parent who is riding in the back seat. Given how important eye contact is forging a bond between a parent and a child and helping diagnose autism early, it’s a nice touch.
Whether the child seat concept for the XC90 ever hits the market, though, is another thing entirely. Jakobsson says that while there’s interest in moving forward with the multi-purpose front seat, Volvo still hasn’t made a final decision on bringing the concept to reality. Still, if it were made, Jakobsson doesn’t anticipate any hurdles for the vehicle to clear when it comes to safety regulation. As long as your car is designed for it, and the seat faces back, it’s safe for your child to ride in front.