By Jordan W. Charness

When I was a kid, I used to hate this time of year. Let’s face it: summer vacation is a whole lot better than going back to school. Once that first ad hit the TV announcing back to school sales, my stomach would turn as I realized that the summer vacation was winding down.

Now that I’m an adult I don’t like this time of year anymore than I did back then. I actually like having my kids at home during the summer and dread doing their homework just about as much as they do. Times have changed since I was a kid and although many children still travel to school in a big yellow schoolbus, there are now plenty of children who know nothing but carpools.

Negotiating a good carpool can take real skill. Adjusting schedules, pickups, deliveries, after school activities, preschool activities, and children in the same family who are in different grades can be a really big job. In many cases carpool partners are not actually friends and are just people thrown together by a similar schedule.

Being in a carpool entails responsibilities and legal obligations that many people don’t often think about. In the first place you’re not only responsible for your own children but are also responsible for the actions of other children under your care. During the time that you are transporting them they are considered to be under your care and you are responsible for many of their actions.

Before you even get around to transporting them you have to actually remember to pick them up. Little children are not to be left alone waiting around to be picked up after school. The other parents in the carpool have a right to expect that you will arrive on time when it’s your turn to pick up the children. If you are unable to do so, you are not allowed to simply have your spouse or some other close friend replace you for that pick up. In fact, many schools will refuse to allow anyone to pick up children unless they have been previously registered to do so.

We always teach our children not to talk to strangers, so sending a well-meaning relative or friend to entice children to enter a car under the pretext of taking them home is a good way to get your friend or relative arrested! Although it will probably be explained at the end it is not beyond the realm of possibility for a child or someone at the school to call the police in the mistaken belief that an attempted kidnapping is taking place.

Many schools are not even set up to handle all the vehicles that come their way during a typical carpool morning or afternoon. When you have several hundred cars all trying to get to the best spot in front of the schoolyard to pick up two, three, four, five, or six children, accidents can happen.

Where there’s chaos there is danger: particularly to all those children trying to get into cars. Morning drop-off is a little less chaotic than afternoon pickup. In the morning the drop-offs are often staggered as parents leave their children in the schoolyard to play for a few minutes before school starts. The afternoon pickup however is usually when all the carpool drivers attempt to be in front of the school at the same moment when the children are dismissed.

Unfortunately, there are accidents when this large group of cars and large group of kids converge. All drivers should be particularly vigilant around the school area at dismissal time and carpool drivers should be twice as careful. Judges have had no problem throwing the book at careless drivers who accidentally run down children while looking for a place to park.

The best place to park is in the school parking lot if at all possible. If not, the smart thing to do is to park your car at least half a block away from the school. The walk will do you good and will relieve much of the congestion around the front of the schoolyard where many accidents occur.

Once you safely have the little munchkins in your car, it is up to you to make sure that they remain safe. All children under the age of five must be placed in a correctly installed, age-appropriate car seat. Every person over the age of five must sit in a seat equipped with a seat belt and wear that seat belt at all times while the car is in motion. Children age four to nine should also have a booster seat because three-point seatbelts are designed for adults, not small children. The BC Automobile Association reports that children between the ages of four and eight in seat belts alone have four times the risk of head injury compared to children of the same age in a booster seat. And remember, once you run out of seat belts you’ve run out of the number of passengers the car may legally carry. If your passengers are under the age of 16 the driver is responsible to make sure that they are wearing their seat belts.

Sanctions will be imposed on the driver for each child that is not properly seat belted in. Once home, it is the carpool drivers responsibility to make sure that he pulls over completely to the curb and checks for traffic before allowing the child to exit the vehicle. It’s also an extremely good idea to make sure that younger children have safely made it into the house before you drive away.

Now that the new school year’s beginning, let’s all make sure that it’s a safe one for the kids.

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