I still remember my daughter’s first day of third grade. That morning, Helen Marie and her younger brother, John, posed on the brick patio with their new lunch boxes—the latest in a series of back-to-school snapshots.
By that afternoon, though, disappointment had replaced any first-day excitement Helen Marie felt. She didn’t know any of the new faces in her class, and she felt nervous and unsure of herself. I suggested she try to find a classmate the next day who might feel the same way. She did, and made a lifelong friend.
Back-to-school can be an anxious and exciting time. It can also means more time on the road. As you make your own memories — shopping for supply lists, picking out new lunchboxes, perhaps — I hope you’ll also take the time to talk to your kids about what it means to be a safer rider.
It goes without saying that every child deserves a sober driver, every time. Yet tragically, more than 200 children die in alcohol-impaired driving crashes each year. And of those killed, more than half were riding with the drunk driver.
Please make sure your child knows they should never get in a car with someone who has been drinking. And if they ever feel unsafe in a car, tell a trusted adult as soon as possible.
Here are some other safe rider tips to share with your kids:
- Always sit in the back seat.
- Put books, bags, toys, trumpet cases—you get the idea—on the floor. These can become projectiles if there is a crash.
- Don’t distract or bother the driver.
- Perhaps most importantly, buckle up, every time, no excuses.
These tips apply to kids of all ages. The risks go up for teens just learning to drive — or for those riding with their equally inexperienced friends.
According to the CDC, teenage passengers and drivers are less likely to wear a seatbelt than any other age group. Here’s another sobering fact: More than half of all teenage passengers killed in car crashes were riding in a car driven by another teenager.
But you can make a difference. Teens who say parents monitor their seatbelt use are twice as likely to buckle up.
My kids knew I wouldn’t start the car until they’d fastened their seatbelts. If you haven’t started this habit already, there’s no time like the present. Wearing a seatbelt is the best defense against a drunk driver, and can literally mean the difference between life and death in any vehicle crash.
Sometimes teens think they can help a friend who has been drinking get home safely by riding with them. Make sure they know there is nothing they can do from the passenger seat — except be a victim. Please talk to your teenagers about how they can get a safe ride home, anytime. Phone a friend. Call a taxi service or a trusted adult. Arrange for an Uber.
Have a safe and happy school year!