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driving concern

What you do in your parked car’s reclining seat is your business, auto makers say – but they’d lose business if they took the recliner away.Ron Chapple

Why do car seats fully recline? We are instructed to drive with the seat up, even the passengers. Nobody sleeps in the car except a few unfortunates who cannot afford a bed (okay, I nap a bit while the wife shops). Statistically, even teenagers prefer the bedroom for extracurriculars, unlike the 1950s, when almost no cars had reclining seats yet autos still managed to kick start some two million births. What gives? – Vince, Roddickton, Nfld.

What you do in your parked car's reclining seat is your business, auto makers say – but they'd lose business if they took the recliner away.

"I can't even imagine how many complaints we'd get if we took out the recliners," said Mike Kolich, Ford's seat comfort engineer. "People like their creature comforts."

The official purpose of the reclining seat isn't napping or nooky – the partial recline is there for your own good, Kolich says.

"Believe it or not, it's about safety. Without a recliner, you might be too tall," said Kolich, whose nickname around the office is 'Dr. Derriere'. He says that the recliner, like other seat adjustments, allows you to "get in a comfortable position while the car's in operation."

Car manuals say you should not drive with the seats fully reclined – anything more than a few degrees is meant for when the car is parked.

"The car's not always in operation, especially today. People are using them for mobile offices," Kolich says. "People want versatility."

What you do in the seats is entirely up to you, says General Motors.

"For instance, if you're waiting at the mall or bus station to pick someone up, the driver can have the choice of reclining the seat fully, turning on the radio and relaxing while they are waiting," said GM of Canada spokesman George Saratlic.

The reclining seat isn't a modern invention – the fully reclining seat first appeared in the 1930s, and was introduced so drivers could use their car to sleep in, Saratlic says.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, bench seats were so roomy that they could be used as beds without a recliner – and a few, like the Rambler, had front seats that reclined completely to form a double bed.

"I've spoken to a few fathers that wouldn't let their daughters date a boyfriend if he showed up in one of those," said Wayne West, president of the Antique and Classic Car Club of Canada.

In cars now, most seats don't recline completely – the back seat usually gets in the way.

They're not typically designed to double as proper beds, say for camping. Nor are they officially tested to see how comfortable they are for naps, Kolich said.

"That's not typically a test we do," said Kolich. "I do get asked whether seats can be so comfortable that drivers might fall asleep [while driving], but that's not an issue."

Kolich says he's never had customers admit they use the reclined seat for fooling around, or ask for designs that might make the activity a little more comfortable.

"We go through thousands of comments and I've never had that one," Kolich says. "Maybe they're too embarrassed to write anything like that in a note."

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