Baby on Board

Writer Sohaila Abdulali believes there's an aspect of car safety we ignore all too often: the driver.
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As parents, we all know the feeling of getting up in the middle of the night completely panicking at the thought of all the horrible things that could happen to our children. And, given the grim statistic that 16 children die on India’s roads every single day, car safety is a concern for all of us whose children use those roads to go to school, to Nani’s house, to the temple, to the mall, to the party. That said, we also know that parenting means knowing when to let go of what we can’t control, and concentrate on what we can. So let’s review some aspects of car safety – maybe thinking about this in the clear light of day will prevent one 3 a.m. panic attack.

You can go online and find out all sorts of useful information about seat belts, safety limits and such. That is all essential. Children (and the rest of us) should buckle up, keep their elbows inside, etc. But this issue also offers a chance to think deeply about your role as a parent in new ways. Here, I invite you to think about an aspect of car safety we too often ignore: the driver.

You can’t control the other drivers on the road, or the weather, or the potholes. But you can control who gets behind the wheel to take your child from point A to point B. And what do you do when you’re not comfortable with that person?

None of us is with our children 24 hours. Sometimes, the driver takes them places. Sometimes, an uncle. It could also be a teacher, a neighbor or a friend. We need to remember that we are trusting these people with our children’s lives. So how do we keep them as safe as possible? Here are just two things to consider.

  1. History: Does the driver/relative/friend who is driving your child have a good safety record? If there’s a history of either accidents or road rage, perhaps you should make alternate plans.
  2. Alcohol: This can get very awkward, particularly in our macho culture. What if you’ve been at a party and your child is going home to her uncle’s house for the night, with her cousins? You’ve had a great time, and everyone’s had a few drinks. Your brother gets up to take her home and you know he has had at least five drinks. What do you do? If you say anything, you risk offense and embarrassment. If you don’t, you’re sending your child off with an unfit driver (and are being an unfit parent, in this instance.) Maybe nothing will happen but then again, maybe something will. This one, however, should be a no-brainer: drinking and driving is bad, bad, bad. Neither you nor your child should never, ever, under any circumstances, get into a car with a driver who has been indulging.

As a polite member of society, it’s very difficult to be the person who creates an awkward situation. But as parents, it’s part of our job, maybe the biggest part, to keep our children safe to the extent that we can. So, uncomfortable as it is, here are a few tips that might help in navigating a situation where you think your child is about to go off with an unsafe driver:

Be prepared: It’s always good to think of possible scenarios in advance. Maybe you can take some time and think about the various people who are responsible for transporting your child. Does anyone make you uncomfortable? Maybe it’s someone very close to you. Maybe it’s you – do you find yourself driving when you’re very tired, for instance? Possibly there’s a way to arrange something different. If you’re prepared, you can be ready with an alternative plan.

Get support: This could be a partner, parent, friend, colleague, or anyone at all who might be willing to talk it over with you and help you plan. There’s probably someone sensible you trust. If there’s a cousin who drives too fast and is always intent on taking the younger lot out for joyrides, this other person could help you figure out how to keep your child away, without causing embarrassment. Embarrassment is better than injury, of course, but realistically, we often let people get away with things in order to avoid social embarrassment.

Make a plan: You could jump in and offer to do the driving yourself. You could try the polite route and say, “It’s too much trouble for you. I insist that my driver/husband/sister do it – you seem so tired and you already do too much.” It’s tough to change patterns, but it’s easier if you plan a little. Here’s a newsflash: it’s okay to tell a white lie to keep your child safe if that’s what you have to do.

Talk to your child: If your child is old enough to understand, this might be a good opportunity to talk with him or her and strategize. Be careful with this option though, remember being a child? Now remember the thrill of danger and of going against your parents’ wishes. Make sure that you use this suggestion with care.

Cars are dangerous. Cars are necessary. Someone has to drive them. Just remember, when you think about car safety for your child,  the person behind the wheel matters just as much, if not more, than the seat belt, the weather, and the road conditions.

About the author:
Sohaila Abdulali has published two novels and three children’s books. She currently writes a newspaper column, and works freelance – if it involves words, she’s up for it.

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