Despite the fact that self-driving vehicles have a long way to go in terms of the development process before they can travel freely on our roads, they do, however, represent the future of mobility. These vehicles and their designers will need to face enormous challenges and one such challenge that has not been fully addressed yet is how to keep children and other users of these vehicles safe.
First and foremost, a fully autonomous car (i.e. a vehicle that can travel on the roads without human intervention) will not be equipped with the usual vehicle controls: a steering wheel, pedals and other accessories. Since there is no need for a driver the passenger compartment can be utilized for several different activities.
This means that the seats do not need to be facing forward and can therefore be facing in any direction, giving rise to major safety concerns on board.
This was the very topic raised in one of the presentations given at the recent annual Munich Conference. This presentation discussed four crucial issues to be addressed when studying the safety of self-driving cars:
- What information should be gathered in order to bring about an adaptable user-focused design for seats and child restraint systems? How can manufacturers be encouraged to take this approach?
- Children who have not yet reached adulthood but are no longer using booster seats are considered to be a vulnerable group. How can restraint systems be designed and optimized for children until they reach adult size?
- What tools do we need in order to take into account the different types of passengers and what information do we need?
- What are the main points we need to agree on regarding protecting children and families in automated driving systems?
We should be placing an emphasis on designing seats equipped to accommodate the physical characteristics and the behavior of passengers. In other words, the seat design should take into account the final user in order to protect them in a crash, while allowing them to behave in the seat in the way they choose.
This challenge provides us with an opportunity to move away from a traditional safety and seat design focus and to instead start looking at the different types of potential passengers, especially children.
The expert panel focused on a world of shared mobility and various aspects of self-driving vehicles, which potentially included non-standard seats and new accessibility requirements and the protection of all vehicle occupants, including children.
Child restraint system designs should be completely user-focused and should be inclusive and allow for overall and universal variations in terms of the user's physical characteristics and condition. In order to assist in the design process, current safety measures should continue to be developed.
A very clear emphasis should be placed on developing tools specifically for children, otherwise, child safety will be compromised.