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Carpool Safety

The average carpool ride doesn't last long, but there's still plenty of time for an emergency to strike. Would you know what to do if you and the crew you regularly shuttle around had an accident? "The more prepared you are, the better," says Dorothy Singer, Ph.D., a psychologist at Yale University and "carpool doctor" for Nissan, which sponsors a carpool-safety campaign.

Necessary cargo

Store in easy reach:

  • A list of children's names, ages, and gender; their parents' names and other contact information; your name and emergency contact info. This is essential for emergency technicians if an accident leaves you unconscious or unable to communicate, says Singer. Also, keep a photocopy of each child's health-insurance card, and notes about allergies or medical problems, such as asthma or diabetes, that a young passenger might have.

  • Signed and notarized permission slips from parents authorizing medical treatment in the event that they can't be reached. Of course, any child will be given emergency treatment when necessary, but some doctors require a parental okay to treat a minor injury  -- such as a cut that needs a few stitches, says Alfred Sacchetti, M.D., associate director of emergency medicine at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, in Camden, NJ. Parents can decide how specific they want to be about medical treatment on the permission slip.

  • A first-aid kit and flashlight.

  • A cellular phone. "It's much easier to make a call from the car than to try to move four or five kids to the nearest pay phone," says Dr. Sacchetti.

  • Tissues or baby wipes, plus a garbage bag.

  • Bottled water.

Rules for the road

Keep kids safe with these easy steps:

  • Maintain a routine, says Singer. Always use the same pick-up and drop-off spots, and make sure the other drivers do the same. When you're not behind the wheel on a particular day, remind your own child who will be. And have a password: If each driver and child knows it, a stranger won't be able to trick kids into getting into the car on the pretense that he's filling in for the usual driver.

  • Transport only as many children as you have seat belts or booster seats for. Once passengers are safely buckled up, keep all doors locked. Don't stow backpacks on the floor, where they can get tangled with little feet, or on the rear window shelf, where they'll block your vision. Instead, stash them in the trunk. Front-seat passengers must be at least 13 years old. And remember that foods that are choking hazards pose an extra risk in automobiles because of sudden stops and starts.

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