We took a few road trips this summer, but it was the four hour drive home from Great Wolf Lodge, through Seattle at rush hour, and the hour-long wait at the border that was the last straw.
“Moommmy! She’s touching me!”
“Moooommm! She hit me!”
“Because you stole my pencil!”
Driving through an unfamiliar city at rush hour, while the kids shouted at each other and demanded, “Moommmy, make her give it baaack!” left me frustrated, short-tempered, and most critically, dangerously distracted. I looked at my husband and said, “We have to do something.”
That night I started researching ways to separate bickering kids in the back seat. I saw Pinterest pins and blogs with homemade jury-rigged dividers. I saw exasperated parents hang towels from the ceiling of the car or wedge foam core sheets between car seats. I saw a failed Kickstarter for a flimsy, accordion-folding sunshade-type divider, and a blow-up divider on Amazon that wouldn’t last one day in our back seat.
None of these makeshift options seemed like a long-term solution for us, and certainly nothing I wanted to leave visible in my car. I kept Googling and finally stumbled over a device with the funny name of Backseat Wally.
Who or What is Backseat Wally
(And why is he welcome on every car ride until my kids move out?)
Designed by Bob Kiesow and Scott Cahall, two dads who know what it’s like to drive with squabbling kids in the backseat, Backseat Wally is a 6-inch wide, soft yet dense foam core insert that buckles securely into the middle seat to give each child their own separate space. It ticked almost all my boxes: secures safely, looks good in my car, and leaves my line of sight clear. But would it work?
I chose the heathered grey Smokey cover to complement the black interior of my car, and waited eagerly for it to arrive. Our next road trip was already in the works, a shorter one this time up to Whistler, and I figured this would be a great chance to put it to the test.
Once our Backseat Wally arrived, it took only a minute to install. After the first few minutes when my oldest was being a bit of a smart ass wanting me to know that she could still reach over the top, I was stunned by how well this simple padded barrier worked. On our drive up and back down the long, winding Sea to Sky Highway (you definitely don’t want to be distracted on this drive!), Backseat Wally cut down on the squabbling by at least 90%, maybe more. Once my kids couldn’t touch, poke, or grab things from each another any more, the verbal bickering just…stopped. I couldn’t get over the difference from our last trip!
Backseat Wally isn’t just a godsend for road trips. Now that the kids are back in school, we’re in the car every day driving to and from school, karate, and errands. I’ve had this in my backseat for almost a month now, and where the kids used to bicker and squabble, they’ve simply stopped. It’s like magic! Just having that separation in the back seat has made our daily commute so much less stressful, more peaceful, and quieter for everyone. And a quieter backseat means less driver distraction, which makes everyone safer in the car.
I only wish we’d gotten this little miracle worker years ago!
From the moment I pulled our Backseat Wally out of the box, I could tell it was well-made with first-rate materials. The fabric cover looks and feels high quality, and the foam is dense and solid enough to stay upright and securely in place throughout our recent road trip and all our everyday driving since.
Backseat Wally is the perfect height (23.5″) to stop the kids from touching each other without blocking my line of sight through the rear view window or through the rear side mirror to the curb. My kids are both in booster seats which raises them up a little so they can still just barely see each other over the divider, but having their own physical space has made all the difference.
Backseat Wally is also the right depth (16.5″) to separate the kids without extending past the edge of the seat. That means that they can easily pass from one side of the car to the other to get in and out on either side. When we’re parked on a busy road, I make my kids exit on the sidewalk side, and this doesn’t get in the way. Similarly, if you’ve got an older minivan with the sliding door on one side, Backseat Wally won’t get in the way of loading and unloading the kids.
Each side of the divider also has a large pocket – one for each child. On our recent road trip, the kids put these to good use to store their books, markers, tablets, and more. It’s a smart feature that makes Backseat Wally even more usable.
The contact surfaces on the bottom, back, and seat belt slots are lined with rubberized, grippy material to keep it from sliding around. Ours can move a bit from side to side when the kids lean on it or wedge their sweaters down the side, but it’s easy enough to just nudge it back into the middle.
Backseat Wally measures 23.5″ tall, 6″ wide, and 16.5″ deep and comes in 6 colours: Smokey (the colour we reviewed), Midnight Blue, Apple Green, Carrot, Oatmeal, and Rhino (a lighter grey). You’ll be happy to know the durable Backseat Wally cover is made from Crypton, a US-made fabric designed to be resistant to stains, water damage, bacteria, mold, and mildew. The company recommends surface cleaning, but in dire circumstances (like that time your youngest got car sick and you didn’t pull over quickly enough), it is removable and washable, though it might take some effort to fit the insert back into its cover properly.
Easiest Installation Ever
Backseat Wally is manufactured in the US and designed to fit into any vehicle with a centre lap and shoulder seat belt. It’s dead simple and takes literally one minute to install. All you have to do is buckle it in place using the centre seat belt, running the belts through the grippy, non-slip slots at the top and bottom of the divider. The seat belt holds the divider securely in place and keeps it from becoming a projectile in case of an accident.
I drive a 2018 Honda CRV, and in my car, the centre seat belt is ceiling-mounted which puts the belt at an angle that’s just a bit too high to fit through the entire top slit of the Backseat Wally. I fixed this by tucking the shoulder belt under the headrest which changed the angle, making the belt fit perfectly. (Never do this when securing any person or car seat!)
Our other car is a 2005 Ford Escape. Its centre seat belt is mounted on the back of the seat itself, so it fits well on its own. While it would be nice to have a second Backseat Wally to keep one in each car, this handy device is light enough and easy enough to install that it’s no big deal to move it from car to car as needed. It’s just as quick and easy to put it in and take it out for the times when you need to put a third person in the centre seat in the back.
Can Backseat Wally Help Children with Special Needs?
Parents of children with autism spectrum disorders and other special needs may find Backseat Wally especially helpful for two key reasons. According to Backseat Wally’s creators, many kids on the autism spectrum find the divider helpful to reduce sensory stimulation and help them feel calmer and more secure in the car. If your child has a hard time keeping their hands and/or feet to themselves, Backseat Wally can also help keep siblings safe and reduce driver distraction by giving each child their own separate space.
“My daughter suffers from SPD (sensory processing disorder) and is very violent towards her sister in the car. We came across your awesome product and thought it would be perfect so she can have her space.”
“I’m a mother of two beautiful autistic kids. My girl is 8 years old and my boy has just turned 5. I have been looking everywhere for a solution to our massive problems with the kids at the backseat. My son also has severe ADHD, and he is all over the place; he is hitting his sister, pulling her hair and so on… She is quite introverted and wants to be left alone throughout the car drive. I was so happy to come across your product… It is much, much needed…(for) driving both kids safe for us all.”
You can purchase your own Backseat Wally online for $139 USD. Unfortunately, Backseat Wally only ships within the 48 contiguous United States right now. Canadian friends, if you just have to have one of these, you could probably have yours shipped to a friend or to a package receiving service across the border.
Win a Backseat Wally!
Feeling lucky? Enter our giveaway for a chance to win a Backseat Wally of your own in your choice of either Apple Green or Carrot (orange). This giveaway is open to residents of the 48 contiguous United States only, 18+. All entries will be verified.
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