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Three mothers tell us what features they really want in a car

Jen Twyman would love a screen in the back seat so that her kids – Sasha 15, Jonah 12, and Seamus, 10 – won’t ask ‘Are we there yet?’

Chris Bolin/The Globe and Mail

Jen Twyman has two fantasies involving the daily schlep of driving her kids to school and lessons: One is about where she would be – the Italian countryside – and the other is about having a car that would smooth out speed bumps along the way.

In her fantasy, Twyman, mom to Sasha, 15, Jonah, 12, and, Seamus, 10, is driving the bougainvillea-lined streets of a small Italian town. It's spring, she's "comfortably caffeinated" – thanks to the in-dashboard mini-espresso machine – and smiling while doing the daily drop-offs.

Predictably, one of the kids has forgotten their lunch. No worries, she pushes a button and a drawer opens filled with hats, gloves, and a selection of snacks.

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Twyman's reality is not driving bucolic Italian back roads, but rather the mean streets of a Canadian city. But she wonders why her dream car can't be reality right now.

Honda started down that road with the Element, which debuted in 2001 at the Detroit auto show with its rough-and-tumble family-friendly design. The urethane floors were intended to withstand a power-wash in the event of a barfy mess and stain-resistant fabric was to repel grimy kids and dogs.

But since Honda's innovation, there haven't been any knock-us-out, parent-friendly design leaps. We've only seen more of the same nice-to-haves: sunshine blinds for napping babies, seating for eight, soil-resistant upholstery, entertainment systems that sync with laptops, and large cargo storage spaces.

But we bet auto makers can do better on the car-feature front when it comes to mod-cons that could make the driving life of moms and dads a breeze while they're shuttling about kids, pets and other people's kids.

Many parents deserve kudos for creative attempts to short-circuit the whining, arguing and boredom by tarting up the car with activity bags crammed with games, snacks, a favourite blankie, toys and DVDs.

Car designers worth their creative mojo only need to spend a few days as a passenger with these moms for an on-the-road reality check. Though car designers can't make the backseat bickering and barfing stop, we want more whiz-bang in our Escapes, Explorers, Foresters and Santa Fes, for the daily schlep to Beavers, birthday parties, drop-offs at school, the ex and the in-laws.

While clocking thousands of kilometres a year, my ad hoc panel dreams big about what their mother of all vehicles would include. Call it a long overdue Mother's Day gift. Though we may love pancakes, bacon and coffee in bed, we'd dearly love to put the "me" back in mommy when we're behind the wheel.

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Here are suggestions from a few creative thinkers:

Jen Twyman

Occupation: Photojournalist

Children: Sasha, 15; Jonah, 12; Seamus, 10

  • I would love a GPS-type screen in the back seat (like the ones on airplanes) so I don’t have to answer to ‘Are we there yet?’ or ‘How much further?’ They can check for themselves and learn some geography at the same time.
  • I’d kill for a teeny-tiny espresso machine that fires up the second I hit the remote key.
  • Mini-‘bar’ that holds a pair of mitts, a tuque, rain boots and, perhaps, a healthy lunch so when the kids forget said item[s] I don’t have to drive home and back to school again.
  • When the Third World War breaks out in the back seat I’d like to hit a button that raises darkened windows between the kids.

Fran Watson

Occupation: Clothing retailer

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Child: Angus, 6

  • A snack dispenser for my perpetually hungry boy.
  • A garburator for my ‘piglet’ to avoid a recent scenario of smooshed pepperoni and cheese into every crevice of the back seat.
  • A self-cleaning function, like those multi-million-dollar loos on the streets of major cities.

Kate Kavanaugh

Occupation: Administrative assistant

Children: Avery, 13; Megan, 11

  • A driver’s seat with a massaging feature.
  • Autopilot. Planes have them, why not cars?
  • A button that allows me to turn on the oven or the dishwasher from the road.

Me? I only have one wish: a button on the steering wheel that delivers an electric zap to the butt of the back-seat driver who is sometimes in my passenger seat any time he complains about my driving.

***** ***** *****

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