Trusting someone else to drive your kids can be tough, especially if you don’t have a strong relationship with the caregiver already. But even when you have a nanny or sitter you know and love, giving them the go-ahead to transport your kids can make anyone feel uneasy. After all, tucking your kiddos into bed at night isn’t exactly the same as hurtling down the freeway with them at 65 mph. It’s a big responsibility, which is why it’s so important to do some groundwork beforehand.
Before you hire someone (like a nanny or babysitter) to manage kids’ transportation, talking with them about their driving history and your expectations can go a long way to keeping your kids safe and your mind at ease.
1. Check the caregivers’ driving history
Do your due diligence. In addition to running a criminal background check on your nanny or babysitter, run a Motor Vehicle Records Check, too. This can tell you if the nanny has had any suspensions, accidents or DUIs in the state within the past three years.
It seems like a small thing, but it can be easy to overlook. Amy Martin, a mom and blogger at Two Little Pandas in Anacortes, Washington, found that out the hard way. When her first nanny left to have children of her own, Martin hired another to care for her twins and drive them to the park and other play areas.
“Since we’d had such great luck with our previous nanny, I didn’t think to ask a lot of questions or check driving records for our new nanny,” Martin says.
But about a month in, Martin started to get concerned when the nanny sent her text messages while driving and photos of the kids with loose car seat straps.
“This kind of opened my eyes to how reckless I’d been,” Martin says. “I had no information on this person who was driving my children around, and I had really been so lucky that nothing had happened.”
The nanny eventually quit, and when Martin hired a new one, she made sure to check the nanny’s driving records before letting them drive with her children.
2. Ask references about the caregiver’s driving track record
A background check can tell you if the caregiver has had any major issues with driving, but it won’t tell you about the little things that can also impact safety — like near-misses a caregiver might have had while driving or if they have a habit (like Martin’s former nanny) of texting behind the wheel.
If you plan on reaching out to references before hiring a nanny or sitter, ask them about their own experiences having the caregiver drive their children. Did they ever have any concerns about the caregiver’s driving, especially regarding safety? If the caregiver didn’t drive as part of their duties, ask the reference whether they would have been comfortable if the caregiver had?
3. Make sure they understand car seat safety
Roughly 150 kids are treated in emergency departments every hour in the U.S. because of injuries caused by motor vehicle crashes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Using and installing booster and car seats properly is crucial to protecting kids in the event of a crash.
When you hire a caregiver who will be driving your children, make sure they know how to install a car seat properly — or where to go if they don’t — and that they know how to use them correctly. For example, they should know where the straps should be positioned and how snug they should be.
4. Ask some hypotheticals
When you’re interviewing a potential sitter or nanny to drive your kids in the car, ask some questions to get a sense for what they might do in a particular situation, suggests Sue Downey, nanny and co-founder of Nannypalooza in Philadelphia.
Some examples include:
What happens if the baby spits up and you are on the road?
How will you handle it if your car breaks down and you have kids with you?
What would you do if you thought another driver was drunk behind the wheel?
“You want to make sure that the nanny has thought through different scenarios and has a cool head when something happens,” Downey says.
5. Do a test drive
Before letting the caregiver drive alone with your children, tag along to see for yourself what kind of driver they might be. That’s what happened when nanny Meghan Murphy began to drive children around for a family.
Even though she had been with the family for a while, they still wanted to ensure she would be able to safely make the 30-mile round trip to the preschool with the kids in tow.
“I remember the mom asking me to drive around with her and the kids first so that she could be comfortable with how i drove before I took the children alone,” Murphy says.
6. Give the vehicle a once-over
Once you feel comfortable with the caregiver’s track record and driving skills, turn your attention to the car (if they’re using their own).
“One thing that I did not do but would recommend for parents is to make sure you inspect your potential nanny’s car for wear and tear to make sure the car is up to your standards,” says Valerie Lobas, mom and founder of Thoughtful Neighbor parenting blog in Cleveland.
Ask about the age and history of their vehicle, such as whether it has been in any accidents and how frequently it’s seen by a mechanic for oil changes, tire rotation and other maintenance.
7. Discuss the financial details
If everything is up to your standards, it’s time to hammer out the details. In addition to discussing their pay rate (whether it’s just driving or in addition to their other caregiving duties), share what your expectations are for maintaining the vehicle and car insurance, as well as anything you’d reimburse or supplement.
“It’s good to all be on the same page with these additional costs,” Downey says.
Some topics you may want to consider or discuss with the caregiver include:
Who will be responsible (including financially) for car insurance and maintenance of the vehicle?
Will you give the caregiver any stipend to help offset the costs of insurance or car maintenance?
Will you reimburse for gas? And if so, how will you determine the reimbursement? For example, some families choose to use the standard federal mileage reimbursement rate, which is 57.5 cents per mile in 2020.
If the caregiver is driving your car, will you add them under your own auto insurance?
Keep in mind that some states, like Massachusetts and California, have laws requiring employers (including families hiring caregivers) to reimburse for costs associated with driving if driving is part of the job.
8. Set ground rules
In addition to working out the financial kinks, work out your own set of rules and expectations for the caregiver while the kids are in their car.
Some things you might want to establish with your caregiver include rules on:
The day(s), time(s) and route(s) the caregiver is expected to drive the child(ren).
Any special circumstances under which they’d drive the child(ren) with or without letting you know first. For example, can they take the kids for impromptu trips to the park? Or should they only drive the children to and from school?
Smoking or vaping in the vehicle (even when the kids aren’t in the car).
Drinking before or while driving with the kids in the car.
Texting or otherwise using their phone while driving.
9. Take it slow if you need to
Even if you get as much information and detail as you can, you still might not be totally comfortable with someone else driving your kids. That’s OK. Take it slow.
“We started with our nanny only driving to preschool,” Lobas says. “As we got to know our nanny better and came to trust her, she eventually was driving my kids to fun outings, doctor’s appointments and the grocery store.”
In short, do what makes you comfortable. And if something happens that gives you pause, use it as an opportunity to revisit some of the conversations above.