Take your average mid-sized sedan layout (though this is the view of an SUV, it should illustrate the idea for anyone who has never been in a car before.):

enter image description here

You have a driver's seat and a passenger's seat up front, and a bench seat in back for a few more.

Since all the driver controls are concentrated around a single seat, and that single-seat needs to be facing the road to be functional, this configuration makes a lot of sense.

With driverless cars being developed, what sorts of shifts in the layout of the seating will be made if the need for a dedicated driver's seat is eliminated?

I was trying to think of comparisons to current vehicles, but none exist. Taxis still have a driver. Limousines are significantly different in size and are not a daily vehicle (for most of us). Trains are designed for mass transit peak usage instead of personal use.

Here are two charts showing how people currently use their vehicles. Most trips will be 15-25 minutes on the way to go shopping or to go to work.:

Types of Trips Taken

Time/Distance per Trip

There are a lot more stats and charts available here and here.

  • this isn't really a UI question. They tried rear facing seats on planes (which are safer) but people didn't like them
    – JamesRyan
    Feb 27, 2014 at 13:03
  • I think the primary passengers will still look forwards most of the time, because people want to see where they're going and might get motion sickness otherwise. Feb 27, 2014 at 13:37
  • @James, I checked meta and saw this and this and thought it would be okay. At any rate, the help center doesn't seem to suggest it isn't okay
    – jmac
    Feb 27, 2014 at 14:12
  • @jmac I wasn't suggesting that it was an outrageous question, more that it won't get a very decent answer when the arrangement is functional not an interface
    – JamesRyan
    Feb 27, 2014 at 15:12
  • "Trains are designed for mass transit peak usage instead of personal use" - often, but not always. Look at the layouts of private cabins in 1st class or luxury long distance trains. Minus the need for a corridor and non-windowed walls facing other carriages, it's the same deal: a family-sized travel compartment with one direction of movement. They're often optimised for sitting and sleeping for overnight travel - but driverless cars might be, too? Feb 27, 2014 at 16:36

5 Answers 5


I am assuming that people are now comfortable giving control to the car. One model that I would expect to see replicated is railway train pod / "London Hackney carriage" seating.


download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

Some aspects likely are

  • Primary seats are in the back
  • Sliding door to single compartment
  • Seats face inwards and communal work area in the middle
  • front seats can swivel to face forward
  • front seats headrests rise only if passenger is present
  • work area is somewhat mobile/extensible
  • six seat options become common
  • dining facilities (i.e. fridge, safe tea/coffee warmer)
  • toy management
  • Out of curiosity, what sort of object is the "Drive / Work / Entertainment" object? Is it a seat with some sort of console in front of it, or a table or something else? Mar 22, 2014 at 22:55
  • Good question. A table with 3D holographic display would be nice... with a future looking high-level design I'd be hesitant to guess. Looking at current trends a table with a pair of touch sensitive displays facing front and rear is likely. These displays would pop-up and have keyboard input built-in the table. Displays would be slaved to personal smartphones via WiDi. Critical subset of "drive" controls may be "always-on" in an overhead pod.
    – Jason A.
    Mar 24, 2014 at 15:35

With a self-driving car everybody in it will behave like a passenger.

What do you do when you're a passenger? Read a book, listen to music, watch a movie, interact with other passengers, do some work, sing a song, make a phone call, watch the scenery, do a power nap, counting cows...

The interior will be adjusted to the most important activities. Facing seats seems obvious.

You don't pick a self driving car because it has good performance. You'll go the same speed as the rest, and it will be faster than today because there will be no traffic jams. Since speed and performance aren't the cars properties but the property of the system it operates in, the car itself will not have the value as status symbol as it has today. You're not quickly away a traffic light. Because there are no traffic lights.

The cars of today stand still most of their lives. That's not efficient. Self driving cars will be used more because they drive themselves to their new task. There will be a different financial model. People won't own a car but be members in a program. This gives extra possibilities and will influence the interior as well. Sharing means more robust interior. But also gives the possibility to use a car that fits your needs. Traveling at night? Bed car. Going out with the family? Many seats. Business? Two or four seats, facing.

Drivers licenses are thing of the past. Kids will take a self driving car to wherever. If you move to a new home you get yourself a self driving truck. Trucks won't have seats at all. Seats are for persons. Not machines. You won't see cars parked in the street. Cars can park themselves. Out of sight.

Self driving cars, no individual ownership, wide range of cars to choose from, pick a car that fit your needs. Many interiors.


In the short term — that is, until a critical mass of self-driving cars are on the road — you won't see much change. The safety considerations that are built into modern cars structure much of how cars are designed and will still need to be included. Off the top of my head I'm thinking:

  • Front-facing passengers
  • Airbags
  • Seatbelts (and, critically, the attendant assumption that passengers sit in one place most of the time)
  • Structural support in case of rollover

Once we're past that phase, however, the possibilities are endless. What do you want your space like for the 20 minute drive to the store? For the 2 hour drive to visit your grandparents? For the 7 hour drive to LA?

Here's another way to phrase your question that may help get at The Future: what aspects of contemporary cars are designed on the assumption that there is a driver driving the car?

  • The front passenger seat. The driver needs access to certain controls (pedals, wheel, shifter) and the driver seat is designed to make that access easy — large foot well, comfortable, adjustable seat, dashboard in front, etc. The passenger seat is essentially a clone of the driver seat minus the controls.

  • The rear seats! Driver seat is paramount, bilateral symmetry (influenced by aerodynamics and the desire to drive places with a friend :) suggests a passenger seat of equal qualities. The second row of seats is secondary and so gets the short shrift. No driver and suddenly all seats are or can be created equally.

  • The center console. Exists because we need a shifter and because there's a natural space between the two front seats. No shifter and no need for two front seats? I know: a bed!


The first and obvious thing would be that the dashboard will change a lot, but once you start with changes, there is no limit.

  • No steering wheel.
  • no need for gas indicator. The car can just tell you when it need refueling.
  • No pedals.
  • No gear change (on actual manual cars).
  • More leg space, specially for actual driver seat.
  • Entertainment system on big screen/windshield.
  • No need for speedometer, just estimated time of arrival.
  • Better air-bags or protective system.
  • ...

Of course that assumes that there would be no backup, manual system for driving the car, otherwise, it is going to be the same as now.

  • 2
    Maybe my question was a bit poorly phrased, but I'm less interested in what will/won't be included, but rather how the space will be changed to reflect how the car will be used. Instead of driving it, it will be driving you, so the goal is no longer to assist you in driving it as easily/safely as possible, and will be closer to a limousine in a way in that it is designed to be a space for you to use until you get to your destination. How will the seats be arranged? Will the space be optimized for 1 person? for 4? For working? For sleeping? For comfortable riding?
    – jmac
    Feb 27, 2014 at 4:49
  • That's the thing, there is no limit. You can buy a car and it would be space to configure or set to your liking. I was thinking, for instance on rotating seats, but that takes space to rotate comfortably. Still, the imagination will run wild whenever that happens. And it will, some day.
    – PatomaS
    Feb 27, 2014 at 5:27
  • manufacturing is significantly cheaper if you have a standard design for mass-production. If you customize each car, they will be far more expensive, so there will almost certainly be a standard layout at least (it could end up being modular design, but there will still be a standard of some sort for mass production). What would the new 'standard' layout be?
    – jmac
    Feb 27, 2014 at 6:00
  • Of course, and most probably they will be mass produced, but I'm sure that by the time we get there, many options will also help to have more customization. Although, self driving cars in experimental state already exist and the means tohave cheap custom designed cars is not on sight yet
    – PatomaS
    Feb 27, 2014 at 6:38

It depends...

do the people know each other? Traveling together as a group?

Then it likely makes sense to have the seats face each other. Trains have this (where groups of 4 face each other) as do various road vehicles (VW Eurovans come to mine--where two rows of seats face each other)

do they not know each other? Prefer privacy?

Then having them all face forward is likely the preferred model (planes, busses, etc.)

The simplest solution to both problems would be to allow one row to flip/swivel to face the opposite direction. Then the seats could be arranged in whichever manner makes the most sense to the particular folks riding.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.