Riding In Cars With Friends

seat beltJust about the number one job of any parent is to keep our kids safe.  We teach them not to take candy from strangers, we tell them to stay away from drugs and cigarettes, and we make sure they wear a helmet when riding a bicycle and a seat belt when riding in the car.

But we can’t be with them every moment of every day — sometimes we just have to let go and trust in what we’ve taught them and in the competence and responsibility of those to whom we entrust them.  Whether they’re in the watchful care of a teacher, a fellow parent, or a family member, we have to believe that that person will work as hard as you do to keep them safe — or at least as hard as they do for their own kids.  But what if that’s not enough?

Recently, one of my kids came home from an outing with a friend and told me that the friend and their parents don’t wear a seat belt when they ride in a car.  As an addendum, I was told “but don’t worry, I wore my seat belt.”  While I’m thankful that my kid has learned so well to wear a seat belt that they do even when not prompted too and in the face of a contrary example, I’m not sure that that’s going to save them from every injury one can sustain in an accident.  There is more to worry about than mere physical pain.

In California, it is illegal for nearly anyone — kids and adults — to ride in a car without their seat belt properly fastened.  According to the Department of Motor Vehicles’ website, “with a few exceptions, everyone riding in a car must be contained by an approved safety-restraint system (seat belts and/or safety seats).”  Those exceptions are limited to medical conditions, supported by a letter from their doctor.  But even though there is a legal violation occurring, it’s not one I feel compelled to report.  I do, however, feel compelled to consider the impact on my kid.

When wearing a seat belt, one’s likelihood of sustaining a serious injury or dying in an automobile accident is cut in half, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  So it’s a good idea in addition to being required by law.  Being in an accident is traumatic enough, but being in an accident and seeing a friend and their family killed or maimed because they weren’t belted in takes it to a whole ‘nother level.  I’m pretty sure I don’t want any of my kids to have to go through that.

Even if no accidents occur, it’s a really bad example to set and the temptation of tempting fate, if you will, may very well prove too strong to resist for my child.  I don’t really want any of my kids getting messages that contradict what I’ve taught them.  I’d much rather have other parents on the same page whenever possible so as to avoid as much conflict as we can.  I certainly don’t relish the day I hear “but Jimmy’s mom lets him stay up until midnight” or “but Suzy’s dad lets her eat all the chocolate ice cream she wants” — I’ll relish it even less if I hear “but Tyler doesn’t have to wear a seat belt!”

There are certain things all parents ought to agree on.  Kids have to go to school and they have to do their homework.  They have to keep their room clean and help with the chores.  They have to eat a healthy meal and not too much candy.  We, as parents, have a responsibility to keep them safe.  Wearing a seat belt ought to be part of that.  It seems like a no-brainer.  But when one family doesn’t wear their seat belts, what do you do?  Do you talk to the parents about it?  Do you not let your kid ride in their friend’s car?  What would you do?


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