Not long ago, I gave a ride to a kid in an old car with no air-conditioning. It was a warm day, so I told him to roll down the window. He had no idea what that meant. Having grown up with power windows, he'd never seen a crank handle and didn't know how to use one. It got me thinking about all the things today's kids take for granted when it comes to cars that either didn't exist or were far less common when their parents were growing up. Here are a few ways in which kids experience cars differently, starting with those windows.
Windows and doors
You can still find crank handles on old cars and "very, very low-end cars," according to Art Jacobsen, automotive industry veteran and director of business development for CarMD.com, a company that offers handheld products and services to diagnose car problems.
The cheapest, most basic models of the Nissan Versa and Smart Fortwo cars, for example, lack power windows.
Another thing that's increasingly rare: manual locks. Locking each door separately seems like a lot of work compared to one click from the key chain.
Music and games
There are more entertainment options than ever before. "Most cars now have an audio jack where you can plug in an iPod or any other MP3 and play it over the car stereo," said Jacobsen. And if the passengers don't like the driver's taste in music, chances are they have their own iPods with head phones.
For kids, DVD players and video games have replaced 20 Questions, GHOST, license-plate math and geography.
Other options include satellite radio and even satellite TV.
How often did your parents get lost, and then get in an argument with each other about being lost? That's probably something your kids experience far less often than you did growing up, thanks to GPS technology. Some folks get turn-by-turn directions and traffic updates from their cell phones, some have portable GPS devices, and some spring for a navigational system built into the dashboard of their vehicle, though that's still a luxury option.
And when your car breaks down, you still have to wait for the tow truck or AAA to show up. But thanks to cell phones, at least you don't have to find a pay phone.
Remember bouncing around the back seat when you were a kid or sitting on a grownup's lap? Maybe you rode shotgun in front while Mom or Dad drove, or even got to bop around the bed of a pickup truck.
All that's forbidden now, thanks to rules and recommendations on child safety. All 50 states require the use of car seats for children, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also recommends that children under 13 always sit in back. Not only can front-seat air bags injure small passengers, but back-seat passengers are less likely to be hurt in head-on collisions.
Once kids have outgrown car seats at age 4 or 40 pounds, the NHTSA says they should use booster seats until they are 8 years old or 57 inches tall, whichever comes first. That means some kids will be big enough to ride the tallest roller coaster in the world, Six Flags' Kingda Ka in Jackson, N.J., which has a height requirement of 54 inches, before they can ride in a car without a booster seat.
The rules have had a dramatic impact on safety. Although car accidents remain the leading cause of death for kids ages 3 to 14, the number of auto-related fatalities among children under 13 has dropped from 3,643 in 1975, to 1,045 in 2008, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation.