Written by Doctor G

What if Our Carpool is Unsafe?

We agreed to carpool with another family, but now realize their car is not safe. What should we do?

Anonymous, in CA

Why is this such a great question? Even though this specific situation may not happen often, it demonstrates a really common problem faced by parents.

What should we do if we agree to something with another adult to make our lives easier, and then realize it’s not a good idea?

In this case the problem is carpool. It could just as easily be a sleepover, or playdate, or sports involvement, or any number of other situations. The answer is one that is always clear when it’s happening to someone else, but murky when it is happening to you.

“Safety first.” This isn’t just a slogan for OSHA, this is a pretty good parenting guideline. Some risk is acceptable-even necessary- but it’s worth considering what my best friend calls the “11:00 News Test.” Whenever she is thinking of letting her kids do something questionable, she pictures how it would look if someone else’s kid did this and something went wrong. If there was a story on the 11:00 news, would she think “Oh that is terrible…” or “Well, that is ridiculous, how could those parents let those kids do that?”

When our kids’ safety is seriously at risk (and I don’t just mean an old car or a rusty car, but a car you know is unsafe), we have to speak up.

In this case, the kindest thing to do is to offer to drive their child and yours to all the events if you can. Say something like, “I’m so sorry to put my worry on you, but I’m concerned about the safety of your car. We’re going to drive our son to soccer practice but would be happy to take your son as well.”

There is the possibility that their car is perfectly safe but doesn’t look it. Has it failed inspection? Or do they let the boys sit up front before it’s legal? Or don’t have enough seat belts? If any of these (or a similar problem) is the case, you can put it on the law. “We’re worried about the message we’ll send if we let our son ride in a car that is not 100% legal.”

Just to double check that your concerns are reasonable, run it by a trusted friend or family member.

It would be easier, and some might say even kinder, to lie about the reason for bailing on the carpool. The problem with lying is that your son will know you did it, and that is not great role modeling. Not only does that teach him that you actually think lying is sometimes OK. This also sends the message that someone else’s feelings are more important than safety. It’s certainly not your job to pressure them into fixing their car, but lying would just be to make your life easier, right?

So the upshot is this: we can’t let our kids do something we are certain is dangerous. And, we should probably fess up to the reason, even if it’s socially awkward.

Anybody ever dealt with something like this?  Agree or disagree?

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