Helen Marie and her brother, John, pose on the patio for a snapshot.

Helen Marie and her brother, John, pose on the patio for a snapshot.

I still remember my daughter’s first day of third grade. That morning, Helen Marie and her younger brother, John, posed on the brick patio with their new lunch boxes—the latest in a series of back-to-school snapshots.

By that afternoon, though, disappointment had replaced any first-day excitement Helen Marie felt. She didn’t know any of the new faces in her class, and she felt nervous and unsure of herself. I suggested she try to find a classmate the next day who might feel the same way. She did, and made a lifelong friend.

Back-to-school can be an anxious and exciting time. It can also means more time on the road. As you make your own memories — shopping for supply lists, picking out new lunchboxes, perhaps — I hope you’ll also take the time to talk to your kids about what it means to be a safer rider.

It goes without saying that every child deserves a sober driver, every time. Yet tragically, more than 200 children die in alcohol-impaired driving crashes each year. And of those killed, more than half were riding with the drunk driver.

Please make sure your child knows they should never get in a car with someone who has been drinking. And if they ever feel unsafe in a car, tell a trusted adult as soon as possible.

Helen Marie and John pose with their new lunch boxes on the first day of school in 1990.

Helen Marie and John pose with their new lunch boxes on the first day of school in 1990.

Here are some other safe rider tips to share with your kids:

  • Always sit in the back seat.
  • Put books, bags, toys, trumpet cases—you get the idea—on the floor. These can become projectiles if there is a crash.
  • Don’t distract or bother the driver.
  • Perhaps most importantly, buckle up, every time, no excuses.

These tips apply to kids of all ages. The risks go up for teens just learning to drive — or for those riding with their equally inexperienced friends.

According to the CDC, teenage passengers and drivers are less likely to wear a seatbelt than any other age group. Here’s another sobering fact: More than half of all teenage passengers killed in car crashes were riding in a car driven by another teenager.

But you can make a difference. Teens who say parents monitor their seatbelt use are twice as likely to buckle up.

My kids knew I wouldn’t start the car until they’d fastened their seatbelts. If you haven’t started this habit already, there’s no time like the present. Wearing a seatbelt is the best defense against a drunk driver, and can literally mean the difference between life and death in any vehicle crash.

Sometimes teens think they can help a friend who has been drinking get home safely by riding with them. Make sure they know there is nothing they can do from the passenger seat — except be a victim. Please talk to your teenagers about how they can get a safe ride home, anytime. Phone a friend. Call a taxi service or a trusted adult. Arrange for an Uber.

Have a safe and happy school year!