Mark, there are surprisingly few states that actually require children to be in the back seat. What forces parents into that decision is not so much fear of the law as fear of the consequences of Ralph Nader’s air-bag mandates (see here for an interesting photo of Ralph demonstrating just how safe air bags are for children). My colleague Sam Kazman comments further:
I don’t know whether carmakers are planning to phase out the 3d seating position in the rear, as a means of complying with higher CAFÉ (I can check on that.) One less seating position means one less set of belts, and thus means one less spot for a child seat. But people planning large families, I suspect, already plan to get large vehicles, and so CAFÉ to some extent already constrains their choices or jacks up the price they have to pay. And that too will get worse as CAFÉ gets worse.
Indeed. CAFE, child-safety requirements, and family size are a classic “trilemma:” a case of pick any two from three. And, of course, we know which one the enviros/safety advocates want to drop out.