The protection of children’s legal rights (topic of my last two columns) is important, but doing our best to protect our children from being harmed in the first place is even more so.
We do our best to keep our children safe in all sorts of life scenarios. It is important to recognize that one of the most dangerous places for our children is in an automobile, even if properly strapped into a car seat or booster seat. The starting point is our own road traffic behaviours. A substantial proportion of children’s claims are against a negligent parent.
Our driving culture is one where the task at hand, driving, takes a back seat in favour of daydreaming, thoughts of the office, fatigue, various “behind the wheel activities”, cellular phone conversations, texting, and other things that successfully compete for or interfere with our attention. It takes a conscious choice for each of us to drive different from the culture we are immersed in.
Our driving culture also continues to tolerate impaired driving. We are seldom at the extreme of the Florida alcoholic who recently was caught having her four year old blow into the interlock device that was installed on her vehicle, but impaired driving continues to occur all around us and it takes a conscious choice to plan ahead to ensure we do not end up in an impaired circumstance where we might make even poorer choices.
What about when we hand our children over into the care of others? It happens all the time when we get help from family members to get our children here and there, sometimes an older sibling, aunt, uncle or grandparent. It also happens when parents car-pool with others to get children to and from school, sporting and other events.
What steps do you take to ensure that those other people will keep your child safe? Apart from equipping them with a car/booster seat, we just assume they will be responsible drivers. Perhaps we should do more than that? Might it be sensible to ask if they ever talk on their cell phone while they drive, or if they’ve ever been handed a roadside suspension? You might not expect an honest answer, but bringing attention and awareness to road safety might have a helpful impact on their driving.
My 11 year old daughter was recently dropped off at a birthday party, with arrangements that the “party parent” would drop her off, with others, at a certain location. The party parent confirmed, when asked, that there would be enough seats for bums so that everyone would have a seatbelt. The party parent was wrong, and my daughter was dropped off without a seatbelt on.
Yes, I’m angry. My child will never again be in that parent’s care, but how could we have avoided that situation in the first place? One answer, I think, is empowering our children. We empower our children with regard to body awareness and sexual abuse (perhaps inadequately, but that’s another topic). How about empowering our children with regard to traffic safety?
I asked my daughter about what decisions she might have made, faced with an adult putting her in a vehicle without a seatbelt. It hadn’t occurred to her that she might have refused to get in the car. That’s my fault. I failed to empower her with that option.
Imagine empowering all of our children with such scripts as: “My daddy doesn’t allow me to drive with someone who talks on a cell phone while driving”; “My mommy doesn’t let me get into a vehicle with someone who has had any alcohol at all”; “My daddy doesn’t let me drive with someone who speeds”.
Not only will we be helping our children protect themselves from danger, we will be helping turn around the Titanic of a poor driving culture by raising a new generation of drivers with traffic safety consciousness.