As the COVID pandemic finally begins to recede and Americans emerge from their homes, parents, guardians and caregivers are returning to the carpool line. While children are undoubtedly excited to see their friends, return to school and rejoin their favorite activities, this newfound freedom does come with some risk.
Despite ongoing vaccinations, coronavirus has not been entirely defeated. We have put together some extra preventative and safety measures you can take during carpools to keep your children safe and healthy.
In this article:
- Health and COVID safety
- Keeping kids safe on the ride
- Car safety and maintenance
- State by state safety guidelines
Health and COVID safety
There is little parents can do to prevent contact between children when they are in the classroom or playing contact sports. However, providing safe transportation is one measure that parents can take to minimize risk.
While nothing will entirely remove risk, these are some ways to help ensure your child and their friends stay healthy during the carpool:
- COVID car dividers: If you are transporting kids from outside your household, consider installing COVID car dividers. These simple plastic partitions with a clear, flexible design can help keep everyone safe from germs.
- Properly clean and disinfect car surfaces daily: Throughout the day, we touch a lot of surfaces, but by regularly cleaning and disinfecting your vehicle with an EPA-approved disinfectant, you reduce the risk of harmful germs to you, your family and the other children.
- Open windows to circulate air: Fresh air can help sweep out germs and bacteria, replacing the air with clean air that is better for everyone to breathe.
- Take the shortest route: Although the scenic route is always nice, the shortest route means the least amount of time in the car, thus lowering your overall risk.
- Wear masks: Masks can still help protect you from coronavirus and other illnesses that can quickly spread throughout the cabin of your vehicle.
- Bring hand sanitizer: Keep hand sanitizer readily available in the front and rear seats of your vehicle, so it is easily accessible and convenient. Ask all the children to use some upon entering and exiting the car.
- Don’t share snacks: Pack or purchase separate snacks for everyone in the vehicle to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.
- Carpool with the same group: Introducing new parties to your carpool can quickly bring new germs and diseases into your family, spreading from one person to the next. Instead, stick to the same group for carpools where possible, whether for school or after-school activities.
Keeping kids safe on the ride
COVID aside, other risks can impact your children’s safety during a carpool. As we venture from our homes, many of us find ourselves out of practice with things like safe carpools. While time will best help us slide back into these routines, parents can use some helpful reminders as a checklist when hitting the road with a car full of kids.
- Adult drivers only: Stick to adult drivers only when carpooling. Although they mean well, siblings and young drivers may unintentionally expose children to unnecessary risk and become easily distracted by a car filled with noisy children.
- Don’t overcrowd cars: Maintain normal capacity and reduce occupancy whenever possible to minimize distractions.
- Seatbelts for everyone: Always be sure to buckle up before you depart for your destination, and make sure all the children and passengers in your car do the same.
- Drive at safe speeds: Maintain safe speeds to reduce your risk of an accident while on the road.
- Don’t leave kids unattended: At no time should any minors be left unaccompanied in a vehicle where they are at risk of injury to themselves and others. Ensure an adult stays with them, or take them with you when you leave the vehicle, especially during the hot summer months.
- Know the driver and the plan: If you are not driving your child yourself, be sure to check in with the driver and confirm that they are taking the same safety precautions as you when driving the carpool.
- No cell phone use while driving: Cell phone use behind the wheel is against the law in many states. However, regardless of legalities, drivers should always refrain from cell phone use and other distractions while behind the wheel.
- Have emergency contacts: As much as we plan, we cannot control what happens when we are on the road and away from home. Even if you are not accompanying your children yourself, you should still keep a list of emergency contacts prepared.
Car safety and maintenance
Driving for a carpool means you will likely spend a lot of time on the road, even if it is a short trip. Carpool safety depends on your car being in safe and working order first and foremost. Here are some things to check before you head out to pick up the kids.
- Valid insurance and registration: You are legally required to maintain proof of valid insurance and vehicle registration in case you are pulled over.
- Properly inflated tires: Underinflated tires can not only cost you more in gas, but they can wear out much faster and even affect your handling and braking.
- Head/tail lights: Be sure to check both your headlights and tail lights to ensure all are in working order before you start the carpool run. Even if it’s during the day, it could still rain, requiring you to use your headlights.
- Wiper Blades: Storms can strike fast and without warning, so check your wiper blades to ensure they are in working order and do not require replacement. Look for streaks on the windshield or scraping sounds to determine if you need to replace them.
- Working A/C: Summer temperatures can quickly make even the shortest ride feel miserable, so have your local mechanic inspect your vehicle’s air conditioning unit. This is especially important if you are ferrying kids around.
- Decent tire tread: The tread on your tires provide your vehicle with traction, especially during inclement weather like rain and snow. Regularly check your tires and measure the treads so you can address wear and tear as it occurs.
- Proper fluids: Your car also requires regular fluids to remain in working order, so visit your mechanic or conduct your own inspection to ensure proper levels of critical fluids like oil, radiator fluid, transmission fluid, brake fluid, and power steering fluid.
- Spare tire/jack: A flat tire can leave you and the children stranded on the side of the road, but if you have a spare tire and jack, you should be able to get back on the road much faster and easier. If you don’t know how to change a tire, look at some videos online or ask your mechanic to give you a quick tutorial.
State by state safety guidelines
Beyond federal guidelines, each state has also created guidelines and plans for COVID reopening procedures. To help your family prepare, this is a state-by-state listing of current guidelines regarding school reopening and youth sports for your family.
Many parents will be back in the swing of carpools by the end of the summer, just in time for schools to reopen. Now is a good time to run down all your checklists, so you are ready to step up when other parents start calling about the carpools again.