It’s high school graduation season, and that means the annual deluge of columns about how you should talk to your kids about drinking and driving. It’s a valuable reminder for parents – driving is the top cause of death for teenagers 16-19, after all – but inevitably the columns stop there. Keep your kids from drinking and, therefore, driving. But there’s no better way to get home after a raucous night than to have someone else drive. Even if there is no drinking involved, drowsy driving is just as dangerous. Talk to your kids about transit and talk to them about cabs.
Kids and transit go together like peanut butter and jelly. Transit can be a tool for freedom for your kids long before they’re of a driving age, and you’ll rest easier knowing they are far safer on a bus or train – even with the creepers that sometimes share a ride with them – than on the road.
Get them a transit card. Though Clipper is the standard for much of the Bay Area’s transit, it might not be in your area. Fill whatever your local system takes with $50 and give it to your kid.
Go over the schedule. Every transit system is different. BART closes at midnight, but Muni has all-night service. Some systems’ routes end at 9, others after midnight. Make sure your graduate knows how to read a schedule, how to reschedule, how to use NextBus for the systems that use it, and how to use the 511.org phone app and website. (If you don’t know, 511.org has transit directions for every transit system in the Bay Area. It’s not as slick as Google Maps, but it’s more comprehensive.)
Go over the map. Reading transit maps is a skill, just like reading road maps. Plan out a route with them from their graduation party to home on the map and on their smart phone (if they have one).
Start them on transit now. If your high schooler is graduating this year, you don’t have a whole lot of time. Go do something cool with them by transit or send them out to a cool part of your area, like Fairfax in Marin, one Saturday. If they aren’t graduating yet, try to make transit part of their everyday life. A first ride on an unfamiliar transit system can be a bit disorienting, and it’s even worse when you’re intoxicated or exhausted.
The last thing you want your graduate to say to themselves is that it’s too much of a pain and just drive themselves. Get them over the hump in a good way.
Whether or not your graduate wants to take transit or can’t get home from late parties, teach them how to use a cab.
Make it easy. If you’re in the suburbs, program a local cab company phone number into your graduate’s phone. If you’re in the city, install Uber or Lyft. You want to make this a simple and normal process. If you’re really out there, they’ll need to call ahead. If your teen has a curfew, you can even call a cab company to have someone come so they’ll get home on time.
Make it free. Just like the no-questions-asked policy driving parents often have, make the cab free. If you have Uber or Lyft in your city, link the account to your credit card. If you don’t, tell them to get a cab receipt and you’ll reimburse the fare.
Talk to them, too, about splitting the fare with other people who are going in their direction. Cabs can be very reasonable if the fare is split 3 ways.
Make it familiar. Just like transit, cabs can be disorienting if you’ve never used one before. Take a trip in one with your graduate and make him or her make the payment for the trip back (though with you paying, of course).
It’s about empowerment
It’s extremely important to let your kids know it’s not safe to drink and drive, but that’s not enough. Give them the tools and know-how to get them home safe every time, even if they do something stupid. When you’ve just had a fight just before a party, they may not want to call you. When their designated driver suddenly isn’t available, they might not be able to get home without driving themselves. When they get to college, they won’t have you there to give them a ride.
Even if transit or cabs are just lifelines in your area, you’ll empower them to make their own choices. For now, if they don’t have their own car, this will give them the opportunity to be able to get around without a family car.
Finally, though they might love to drive, teaching them options will allow them to understand that that is a choice, not a requirement, of living in a place.