What You Should Know Before You Carpool

Does your child always use a seatbelt and safety seat in your car? What about when he or she rides with friends in a carpool? Even if you're diligent, you should know that many parents are more cavalier about safety while ferrying a carful. Despite the convenience, foregoing seatbelts and safety seats while carpooling puts children at risk.

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Why Carpools Can Be Dangerous

Carpools can be a blessing for parents. You and your peers can rely upon each other to transport your children to and from school, sports and myriad other places. The shared responsibility can provide you with a little extra time in your day. Also, most kids love carpools because they get to ride with their friends. Plus, the efficiency of carpooling helps the environment by reducing the number of cars on the road.

However, a report on parents of 4- to 8-year-olds, published recently by the journal Pediatrics, suggests that parents who frequently carpool cut corners with critical safety measures. While more than three out of four parents use safety seats when driving their own children, only half require their children to use a safety seat when traveling with friends. Meanwhile, carpooling is common, with 64% of the parents surveyed carpooling and 15% of parents carpooling at least once per week.

There are times when a parent is asked to carpool more kids than he or she has seatbelts. In this situation, almost 30% of parents surveyed by Pediatrics would skip calling other parents for help. Nearly one out of five parents would put the largest child in the front seat. Nearly one in ten said they'd use one seatbelt to secure two children, place children in a cargo area or have one child sit in another's lap.

An Inconvenient Necessity

Carpooling would be easier if everyone drove a school bus equipped with a plethora of seatbelts and safety seats. In the real world, though, parents are often exasperated with the difficulty of ensuring the complete safety of every child in their carpool.

Too often, a parent will send a child without his or her safety seat. Many parents report difficulty taking safety seats in and out of cars, which is especially true with seats for younger children. It can also be complicated to arrange multiple safety seats so that seatbelts are still accessible and the doors will close.

Yet improperly restrained children risk terrible injuries and even death. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that car crashes are the leading cause of death among children between ages 3 and 14. Many carpooling parents may believe a seatbelt is adequate when a safety seat is unavailable. But a 2005 NCBI study highlighted the injuries reported for children restrained by seatbelts but not aided by safety seats. These include severe abdominal injuries, broken spines and paralysis.

Protecting Your Child

Just because parents report lackadaisical safety measures when carpooling, you shouldn't feel compelled to abandon relying on your peers. Instead, you should take steps to ensure that your child and any child you transport is safe.

When you send your child with another parent, always be certain your child has his or her safety seat. Just as you wouldn't send your child out without shoes to protect his or her feet or a coat on a cold winter day, you should consider a safety seat an essential step in protecting your child. The first time your child travels with a particular parent, offer to help show that parent how to use your child's safety seat.

When you're the driver, know how many seatbelts you have and refuse to accept children beyond that limit. Furthermore, learn how to best arrange the other children's safety seats in order to maximize safety. If a child without a safety seat needs a ride, remember that it's always better to be overly cautious than risk a child's safety.

Finally, use the law and peer pressure to your advantage. According to the Pediatrics report, states with strict safety seat laws had a higher instance of safety seat use. Learn your state's laws and be sure that the parents with whom you carpool do, too. Also, 68% of parents reported that it's easier to use safety seats while carpooling if every parents uses them. So make it a habit, do it consistently and lead by example.

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