The Pros and Cons of School Carpool

Women buckles two children into a car to get to school.
Carpooling can be a safe way to share the transportation burden of parents. Adam Gault via Getty Images

Parents and caregivers spend a lot of time driving their children to and from school. You may spend even more time taking children to extracurricular activities. If you find yourself adding miles to your car and spending more at the gas pump, you have probably wondered if sharing the work burden through carpooling would ease some of the strain.  

A good carpool system can help alleviate the transportation burden placed on families.

Before joining a carpool, it is worth looking at both the pros and cons to help you decide if carpooling is right for your family and how to minimize any potential problems.

Let's begin with the pros of school carpooling:

Fewer Cars In School Parking Lots

Between school buses arriving, parents and caregivers dropping off and picking up children, and all of the children walking to school, navigating a school parking lot can be a traffic nightmare. Carpooling reduces the number of vehicles in the parking lot.  Reducing this congestion can increase safety for everyone who uses that parking lot at that time.  

Share and Save on Gas and Expenses

Your vehicle won't be consuming as much gas if you reduce your driving. The wear and tear on your vehicle is also reduced, saving you money on repairs and maintenance. Splitting gas and other expenses between riders costs less than each family paying to transport their children themselves.

Kids Can Get More Social Time With Peers

Children today spend much of their time in directed activities. Carpooling with other children gives your kids time to freely talk with others. Children can also get to know the other adults who drive in the carpool.

A Social Circle for Parents and Caregivers

Carpool coordination requires parents and caregivers to keep one another informed of schedules and information provided during pickup.

This will help you have a social circle of parents and caregivers who are involved in the same school experience as your own child. You will have other adults who are familiar with local circumstances to discuss school issues and parenting with.

Carpool to Sports, Clubs, and Other Activities

Carpooling doesn't have to be limited to getting to and from school. Ideally, you will be in a carpool with a family who lives near you and in which the children are involved in some of the extracurricular school activities.

While you may not find the perfect match with a neighboring family whose children have the same interest as yours, even carpooling only shared activities will help reduce the transportation burden on each family involved. If you can't find that perfect match, you can still network with other families from extracurricular activities to carpool.  

Take Advantage of Community Incentives

Different communities have begun offering a wide variety of incentives that are available to carpoolers. Larger metropolitan areas often have commuter lanes in which drivers with passengers are able to drive faster in. Some communities offer contests with prizes and free events to carpool participants.

Places to look for local incentives include checking with your school's PTA/PTO, your local city or county website, and advertising in local newspapers and media.

Now, let's discuss the cons of school carpooling:

Juggling With Other Family's Schedules

As if it isn't challenging enough to figure out how to get your own children where they need to be, carpooling can introduce even more potential timing conflicts by bringing more people into the mix. The key to overcoming this potential issue is finding families who are going to and from the same areas at the same time.  

Watch out for stops that a driver may need to make, such as getting gas or having to run another errand.

Be sure that all pickups and stops are factored into creating the carpooling schedule and that everyone participating in the carpool understands the importance of being punctual.

Finding Quality People to Carpool With

There are parents and caregivers who do not always adhere to safe driving laws and practices. We may all wish that we lived in a world where every adult was always as mindful of children's safety as we ourselves are. We just can't assume that about other adults.

Talk with the adults involved in the carpool to make sure that their vehicles have the necessary safety equipment for the number of children they will be driving around. Check to make sure they have all legally mandated vehicle insurance and that their vehicle meets legal safety standards (no smashed out taillights or missing bumpers).

You should also ask about their driving history. Have they had several moving violations? Do they have a history of drug or alcohol related impaired driving? If so, find out how recent this has been and what steps they have taken to improve themselves as a safe driver. If you are uncomfortable with the answers, politely decline to have your children ride with that adult as a driver.

Coping With Discipline and Rule Setting Between Families

Unruly children in a vehicle can be a huge distraction for any driver - which can be a safety issue.  All parents are well aware of how poorly behaved children can sometimes act while riding in a vehicle. When you have multiple children riding together in a carpool, it is critical that the children understand that they must behave appropriately.

This means that the driver must be able to manage behavior in the vehicle. To prevent any disagreements over discipline, families should discuss behavioral expectations and possible consequences early on. Points to consider include eating snacks in the vehicles, appropriate noise/voice level, use of electronics such as smartphones and game units, and who will sit where in the vehicle.

Need for a Backup Plan

You need to have a backup plan in the event that the carpool driver is unable to transport your kids, even on short notice. Even the most reliable parent can get sick or have an unexpected emergency take place. If you rely on your carpool exclusively to get your children to school, you may find yourself with your own unexpected emergency of having to transport your children when you need to be somewhere else.

You can check to see if your children will still be able to catch a school bus if the carpool driver cancels. Your carpooling group can also appoint an emergency backup person who can be available on short notice.

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