As summer vacation wraps up, many kids — certainly my own — are dreading the start of the school year. But the parents? Well, just as many parents are downright giddy for its return. School means the whole family can settle back into a predictable routine. Yay! One of the only things to put a damper on the parental enthusiasm is carpool time. The level of coordination is epic in a successful carpool, and the stress of having your child be "that kid" (you know, the one who's always running late) is real.
With the school year nearly upon us (or in full swing for some lucky parents), it's a good time to run through the car features that can make your carpool run a little smoother — well, these features, plus a smartphone with an endless carpool text chain and an unending supply of patience.
Here are five of my favorite features that make hauling a gaggle of kids easier:
1. Seat Belt Snitches
There's always one kid in a carpool who thinks it's funny to skip buckling up. On school carpool days, there's no time for that kind of nonsense. Thanks to a handy graphic in the instrument panel, the 2019 Land Rover Discovery tells the driver where people are sitting in the three-row SUV and whether they have their seat belt on. When you ask the kids if everyone is buckled up, you'll already know the answer.
2. You Gotta Keep 'Em Separated!
Captain's chairs should be called sanity savers. Any parent knows that putting space between bickering siblings can only help with those always-frail sibling peace accords. When it comes to carpools, second-row captain's chairs make getting into and out of your vehicle easier for those third-row passengers.
3. Path of Least Resistance
Captain's chairs aren't the right fit for every family, however. Many parents don't want to give up a seating position in their car as you must with captain's chairs. Instead, they opt for the second-row bench that allows them to maximize their people-hauling capabilities — but that bench can make it difficult for kids to independently access the third row. I'm a fan of how simple Honda makes it to get to the third row in its Honda Pilot and Acura MDX, both three-row SUVs. Simply push a button on the second-row bench and it quickly slides forward to create a path to the third row. That means you don't have to get out of the driver's seat to fold, flip or tumble any second-row seats for younger kids.
4. All the Cupholders
If you're hauling kids, you're going to need a lot of cupholders. Good news: The all-new 2019 Subaru Ascent has 19 of them. That means you have lots of places for the kiddos to put their reusable water bottles, toys, granola bar wrappers and whatever else they haul with them on the (hopefully) short ride to school.
5. Embrace the Power Sliding Doors
Much maligned, minivans are the perfect vehicle for school carpool duty. You can get them with or without captain's chairs, and they're built for family life with a plethora of cupholders and cubbies for all the stuff. But the real reason why minivans like the Chrysler Pacifica, Cars.com's 2018 Family Car of the Year, are made for carpooling has to be the power sliding doors. You don't have to leave the driver's seat to open — and close — the rear doors. And because these are power doors, it's an easy button push to open or close them, which is something any school-age child can handle.
One last thing: It's absolutely acceptable to wear your pajama pants while driving the morning carpool, especially once you've mastered the routine.
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