How To Make Your School Carpool Work Best For You

Safety and Cooperation are Key to a Successful Carpool

Picture of mom driving daughter to school
Sharing the drive to school with others can ease the burden on parents. JGI/Tom Grill via Getty Images

You finally found the right families to carpool with. Your schedules line up, the other drivers have adequate seating and you are comfortable with their driving habits. Now you just need to start and maintain your carpool for it to run smoothly.

When Setting Up a Carpool

Create A Detailed Schedule 

Get everyone together and make sure that you have pick-up and drop-off times and days written down on a calendar.

 If drivers will be taking turns on different days, be extra sure that this is clear to everyone who will be driving the children, and when.  Be sure to include who will drop the children off and who will pick them up.

Have the pickup time to get to school be 5 to 15 minutes earlier than the children need to arrive. This will allow for unexpected traffic or other delays. If the children will be waiting for more than a few minutes for school to start, make sure that there is a safe and open place at the school for children to wait.  

Make Sure Each Passenger Has A Safe Seat

Small preschool and kindergarten age children may still need to ride in a car seat. Early elementary age children often need to ride in a booster seat. Generally, children under thirteen should ride in the  backseat of a vehicle. Check the safety guidelines that apply to each child, along with your local state car seat laws to make sure each child has a safe and appropriate seat.

Discuss Expenses Upfront

Will you share in the gas costs? Will there be reimbursement for increased insurance and vehicle wear and tear? If the children will be provided snacks for after school pickups, who will purchase them and how will that expense be shared?

Come Up With Rules For Passengers

Agree on a set of rules for what behavior is allowed during the carpool time, and what isn't.

Include what discipline may be used for an immediate consequence, and what behaviors will be reported to the parent for follow-up on behavior expectations.

Behavior such as shrieking, hitting, taking off seat belts and throwing objects in the vehicle should be against any carpool rules. Points to discuss may include eating in vehicles, the acceptable noise level for talking, what can be listened to on the radio and who gets to pick the channel, use of personal electronics like cell phones or gaming units by passengers, and where children will put their backpacks and school materials for the ride.

Have A Plan for School-To-Home Communications

Schools and teachers often have a favored system to communicate between home and school. Make sure that your carpool system helps get the school information that may be coming home with the child to the parents or guardian.  

Discuss ahead of time what will happen if school staff wants to verbally pass a message through the driver to the parent. Will the driver pass along the message, or ask the school staff person to contact the parent directly?

Make Sure All Drop-off And Pickup Permission Forms Are Signed

Most schools require parents and guardians to list the names of anyone who has permission to pick up their children from school. Generally speaking, the younger the children, the stricter the permission policy. Be sure that you have provided written permission for all of the involved drivers to pick up your children.  

It would be an embarrassing delay to everyone if the school was unable to release your children to a carpool driver because you forgot to list the carpool driver on the form!

Once The Carpool Is Operating

Be Punctual

Have your children dressed and ready to go by the pickup time. Don't wait to have your children put on their outdoor jackets and gather together their backpacks and lunches once the carpool driver is waiting in front of your home.  

Likewise, if you are the driver, be sure to be on time when picking up children. If you will be more than 3 minutes late, send a text or make a phone call to the waiting family. This is a short amount of time, but it can be easy for a parent or guardian to begin to worry if you are not exactly on time. Even if you know you will get the children to school on time, be in touch to help set aside any fears.  

Have a Backup Plan

Even the most reliable, punctual carpool drivers get sick, have vehicle breakdowns or unexpected family emergencies. Check to see if your children can take a school bus if the carpool driver can't make it.  Tweens and teens may be able to use public transportation.  

Your carpool group may also want to appoint an emergency backup driver. This parent or guardian may be in the carpool in order to decrease the work burden, even though their schedule would allow them to drive the children on most days.  

Keep Vehicles As Clean As Possible

Riding in a neat and clean vehicle is much more pleasant than riding in a dirty vehicle. Dirty windows and trash rolling near the driver's feet can become safety issues.  With kids riding in cars, clean as possible are the key words here.  

Have a rule that children take out any items or trash they brought into the car. Drivers should find a little extra time to vacuum and wash windows than before.  The extra passengers often lead to an increase in dirt and mess in a car.

Let Drivers Know Immediately If Your Child Won't Be Riding On A Given Day

If your children won't be attending school due to an activity or illness, let the driver know as soon as possible. It's inconvenient for a driver to make an unnecessary stop, especially if it means that they could have had a few extra minutes in their morning.

Being considerate to other carpool members will keep everyone feeling positive about the carpool. The happier participants are to be in the carpool, the better the carpooling process can work.

Emphasize Polite Behavior To Your Children

Teach your children to tell the driver thank you for providing them a ride, each and every time. Remind your children to use their manners when riding in the carpool. These manners are a step above the basic rules that your group probably agreed on already.

When your children are polite to the driver and other passengers, the carpooling experience is more pleasant for everyone. Children can also set examples of what good, polite behavior looks like to the other children in the carpool. It also will give your children good practice on how to get along in a group in the future.

Check In With Your Kids About The Carpool

Ask your children open-ended questions about how the carpool is going. It is a part of your child's day and talking about it helps keep open the lines of communication between you and your children. It can also be a good way to make sure that the driver is being safe and that your children are being treated well during carpool rides.

When It is Time To End The Carpool

If You Are Leaving, Give At Least Two Week Notice

Whether you will be moving, your schedule is changing or you miss driving your own children every day, if you will be leaving the carpool, give ample notice. You probably experienced how difficult it can be to find a good match for carpooling. Give the other parents as much time as possible to fill the void you will be leaving behind.

There are a few exceptions to this. If you have an unexpected emergency type situation that will change your schedule and make it difficult to participate in the carpool, you may not be able to give two weeks notice.  In this case, just be as accommodating as you can and let the other drivers know that although you wish you could give more notice, you can't.

The other situation would be if there is an irresolvable safety concern. Some safety concerns can be discussed. Glaring safety issues, such as a driver who has been driving while intoxicated or is frequently raging at other drivers on the road, probably cannot be handled through discussion. In this situation, politely withdraw yourself from the carpool. If the other drivers unsafe behavior, you will need to use your best judgment in whether or not to report it to the proper authorities in your community.

End Of The Year or Season Tips

So your carpool lasted until the end of the school year or extracurricular season for which you wanted to share transportation? Great! Don't just say goodbye! Talk with the other drivers to see if you will want to do the carpool again in the future. Talk about what was great, and what you would like to improve for the next year.

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