Should I let my Au Pair drive with her arm in a cast?

by cv harquail on August 26, 2012

Quick Answer?


More details?
Here’s the specific situation:

I have been a subscriber for years and have found your blog very helpful. Now I need some specific – and timely – advice.

My au pair broke her right arm (she is right-handed). Should I let her drive? Can she drive the children?

She has only 3 weeks left in her year and has been a great au pair. She has a car for personal use but also drives our children to school 1 hour from our home. My experience is that she is a safe driver but I tried driving with 1 arm today and I found it extremely challenging, and it wasn’t for an hour long ride.

Has anyone else had this type of problem and how did you solve it?

I don’t think you should ever have your au pair drive your kids, or herself, when her mobility is significantly impaired.  

Even if you (or s/he) can imagine being “okay” while driving in a regular situation, a safe driver has to be able to react in a split second to a dangerous situation. If someone can’t grab the wheel with two hands, whether because of an injury or something in your other hand, then that person can’t react safely.

I imagine it’s tempting to have her drive anyway, since doing otherwise would be a big imposition on you, her and your family.  But you could never forgive yourself if you let her drive while impaired, and something happened.

When I was 23 I broke my right ankle and was in a cast to my knee. Because I had a job that required driving, and I was afraid of losing it, I decided I could “drive” with my left foot. I look back on that as one of my more foolish efforts at being “responsible”. Driving with a foot in a cast was the opposite of responsible.

Host parents, what say you?


hOstCDmom August 26, 2012 at 9:53 pm

One word – LIABILITY. If your AP has an accident, and she gets out of the drivers seat with her right arm in a cast, you are opening yourself up to significant liability. Even if driving with one arm didn’t actually impede her driving ability (since on can presume there are some people out there with only one arm/with only use of one arm who have licenses and rive) the PERCEPTION will be that her impairment was a (significant) contributing factor to the accident. I certainly know if I were counsel for the person she hit, I would hone in on this point….

DCMomof3 August 26, 2012 at 10:18 pm

Sorry, this is not fun. I had an au pair who injured her wrist once. We lived in a city and she did not drive, but she did have to get my kids to and from their school each day. I had a 4 year old who walked and a 2 year old and baby who rode in the double stroller. She couldn’t push the stroller with just one hand. I had to hire a college student to push the stroller back and forth to the school a few blocks away. We cut out all other gratiutious trips to the playground, library, store, etc for this period. It was still kind of expensive (college student charged me her 2 kid rate while AP stayed home with baby) but there was no way around it. My AP was otherwise fantastic and sometimes things just happen that we have no control over.

Former AP August 27, 2012 at 5:21 am

The liability point is VERY important!

I would suggest talk to your AP. Does she feel comfortable driving? Take her for a drive and see how she does. (I have never broken a bone before *knockonwood* so no idea how much it limits a person while driving).
Maybe you could ask one of your APs friends to drive for her (if you know them well enough and they are off during that time) for a few $. Or maybe ask some friends who also have kids at that school to give your kids a ride.

EU.AP August 27, 2012 at 6:59 am

An hour drive without your dominant hand. Turn signals, windshield wipers, switching gears — though I am assuming you are talking about an automatic car. Quick question, where is the cast? Does it end at the elbow, or go all the way up? I broke my wrist, and could probably have driven small distances with my cast, but definitely not the hour you are talking about.

My suggestions:

** is there a school bus route that your kids could temporarily sign on for?
** tweak things in your own (or HD) work schedules — can either of you work from home part of the day?
** I assume public transit won’t get you there, but could you use it in combination with any of the others?
** I also like with DCmomof3 did with the college student. Post up details at a local college, and you shouldn’t have too many problems finding one or two suitable candidates (someone to drive their own car to your place, then take your car to school?)

At least it’s only for three weeks. I don’t know how bad the break was, but adult bones take longer to heal than kids. Had this been earlier in the year, you could have been out a driving au pair for twice as long, if not longer.

I wouldn’t ask if she’s comfortable driving. As an au pair I would be torn between trying to please you plus the guilt of how put out you will be, and knowing that I can’t drive 100%

On the bright side, she’s been a good au pair. It just demonstrates the role she has played in helping your family run smoothly.

Taking a Computer Lunch August 27, 2012 at 7:52 am

Personally, I would suspend all of her driving – even her personal driving.

I know it’s easier if she drives, but do you really want your kids in the car with someone who cannot react with two hands. Defensive driving requires a quick reaction time. You don’t want to risk the possibility that she will injure her arm even more (or require surgery because she didn’t immobilize it).

My guess is that neighbors, friends, and the parents of your children’s friends will come to your aid. If there is a schoolbus your kids are able to take – put them on it. Arrange a carpool. Beg. Promise the drivers that your next AP will pick up the slack for them in an emergency. People will understand.

Aussie mum August 27, 2012 at 9:00 am

I broke my wrist earlier this year, I was told by drs, nurses, other patients that I had NO INSURANCE cover whatsoever if I had an accident while driving. I wouldn’t let her. Plus it hurts, and she wouldn’t have the strength to steer out of danger in an emergency situation.

Dorsi August 27, 2012 at 12:18 pm

“Broken Arm” can mean a lot of different things — from very minor, stable injuries with minimal pain, to a whole lot more. I think it may be best to ask the orthopedist what their recommendation is.

Should be working August 27, 2012 at 4:09 pm

I wouldn’t let her drive.

Can you amicably end your year 3 weeks early? CCAP lets APs end the year up to 1 month early if both parties agree (and you get your agency fee pro-rated, i.e. the unused weeks roll over to your next contract).

If your new AP can’t come right away, you would at least be not paying the agency. Or the AP. So that money could go to the college student. Maybe the AP would take her ‘travel month’ staying with you and do some member-of-the-family helping out at home?

Anna August 27, 2012 at 10:36 pm

I agree with everyone here. No driving, not the kids, not even for personal reasons alone.

Binuk September 1, 2012 at 7:45 pm

Should be working… I think that, its not aupair’s fault to get injured. I’ts hard because she will be unable to do most of the tasks (imagine HM breaks arm and AP has to do extra housework for x weeks)
Sure they’d save some money but, personally, I’d be horrible if any host family would kick me for that reason (even if there’s three weeks left.) Maybe AP counts with that money or she already booked her flight…
And being said she was a good AP, it’s not reasonable to send her home for an injury (she still can take care of them at home, cook, clean……

Taking a Computer Lunch September 1, 2012 at 11:41 pm

To be fair, the OP said nothing about letting the AP go early, she just wanted to know if she could have her drive.

My guess is that how a HF deals with an injury that affects the quality of work depends on both the family and the circumstances.

First, it depends how the injury occurred. Caring for the HK? An unforeseeable accident? The family will probably bend over backward to keep the AP employed. Skydiving? Probably not.

Then, there is the family’s needs. For parents of young or special needs children, an injured AP means finding and paying for alternative childcare — or take time off ourselves. For parents of older children, they need a driver more than anything else.

Finally, there is the AP’s relationship with the HF. A great AP with three weeks to go has a better chance of having the HF continue the relationship than a mediocre AP with a history of making bad choices.

Mid-A Liz September 2, 2012 at 12:29 am

TaCL: Binuk was responding to Should be working, not directly to the OP. I agree with Binuk.

I understand the temptation of trying to save three weeks’ worth of fees to the agency, but suggesting to your au pair to end the year early because she broke her arm just reeks of callousness and selfishness. Especially because Sbw added that the AP could, “take her ‘travel month’ staying with you and do some member-of-the-family helping out at home?” In effect, that’s not only saying to the AP that she doesn’t deserve being paid for the last three weeks, but is asking her to do skip traveling in order to do some work nonetheless. — We like you enough to let you live under our roof, empty the dishwasher, and take our dog on walks, but not enough to pay you for it.

I know the message Sbw’s post sent probably wasn’t what she intended, but I think that would be a terrible way to treat an injured au pair. (If the AP is the one to bring up those ideas, it’s another matter entirely. But don’t suggest them yourself!)

Sometimes, life gives you lemons (and APs with injuries). The right response would be to treat the AP like you’d want her to have treated you or your children if you had gotten injured. If you had fallen ill and needed to stay in the hospital a few days, causing a childcare crisis and putting your AP over the legal number of hours a week, would she have risen above being an employee to help as a member of the family (even if it had caused her great inconvenience)? If so, you owe it to her to keep her for her last three weeks (even if it causes you great inconvenience). It won’t be cheap or easy, but this is one of those times that you can show that being her hostFAMILY is more than just a title.

Should be working September 2, 2012 at 8:50 pm

I wrote ‘amicably’ because maybe the AP would not mind ending 3 weeks early. We have had two au pairs choose to end their years 2-4 weeks earlier than the official date and the agency still gives them full credit for completion.

As TaCL says, the attitude of the AP throughout the whole year would be key for me in deciding how much to accommodate the injury and its repercussions for my family. A great, loving, helpful au pair–ok. A so-so au pair–maybe not.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 2, 2012 at 9:37 pm

Mid-A Liz – I must say that I have truly loved most of my APs, and would have bent over backwards for most of them, even if they had injured themselves (fortunately none ever have). However, 3 weeks would be the difference between my celebrating Passover and Christmas with families (we’re an ecumenical family) and having a summer vacation.

For the record – I give up these celebrations from time to time – The Camel has spent up to 5 weeks a year in hospital recovering from major surgery. I bring in extra family rather than extend AP hours (and realize I am very fortunate to have that support). I would forsake my vacation time for an AP who worked hard (not even above and beyond). One that complained constantly, engaged in risky behavior that affected my family, or had to be told what to do constantly – I would begrudge.

I hope your HF likes you enough to do more than “let you live under [their] roof.” If not, then maybe you should have a conversation with them. If you resent walking their dog, then tell them. Communication takes two, otherwise you’re just complaining to yourself.

Mid-A Liz September 3, 2012 at 12:10 am

Oh, I’m not an au pair. I have experience on the other side of the table. :) I understand the mix-up, though, since I am most sympathetic at the moment for the poor girl with the broken arm. At the same time, shouldn’t we all try to look at each situation from both points of view?

I understand what you mean about the attitude of the au pair determining your actions. But unless the OP specifically says that her au pair is less-than-great, I’m not inclined to advise the OP: “Suggest your AP leave, but perhaps house her as long as she keeps working without pay.” I suppose I got a feeling from where this conversation was going that we were assuming this AP didn’t deserve extra accommodation, for absolutely no reason. Our default position should be treating APs as family unless they prove they don’t deserve it, not treating them as mere employees unless they prove they’re exceptional. And I would certainly take a financial hit to help family (or practically-family who has provided invaluable support to me for 11 months).

Sbw: I know you were saying it’s possible to have an amicable early end for the AP year. If the AP suggests it, I think that would be a solution that would be good for both sides. Goodness knows she might prefer to recuperate back at home. But a good au pair would probably feel very guilty as it is for the inconvenience her host family has to go through to find a driver for her last three weeks. If her HM says, “Would you consider leaving early?”, I can see her feeling very unwelcome.

Obviously, of course, the OP knows her AP best and will choose what to do. But I didn’t want her to come away from the Aupairmom discussion thinking that we all unanimously agree that the OP should suggest a premature end to the year.

Aussie mum October 1, 2012 at 8:11 am

I had an idea of a possible solution in a situation like this, the AP could accompany and supervise the kids on public transport for essential trips.

Sleepytime February 1, 2013 at 7:33 pm

Our Au pair has broken her left non dominant arm; she’s just graduated to a short arm cast from a long arm cast. Her orthopedist told her she can’t lift or hold anything, and that if she gets in a car accident she may have a severe break, but that she can drive. I question how anyone can drive if they can’t grip the wheel. There was a recent study from
Vanderbilt confirming that its harder to drive with your left arm in a cast. I think that
1. I would never forgive myself if the kids were hurt in an accident and there is some chance she could have driven better with her arm out if cast
2. ( more likely scenario) the liability is way too high- if she gets in any accident we are certainly on the hook even if not her fault
3. If we are asking her to drive and she reinjures her arm, I wonder how liable we are.

In our situation, we don’t need her to drive as much as we need her to be able to take care of the toddler- so now we are paying for full time daycare for him. We can sacrifice the kids having afterschool activities.
So, what would you say about driving? My thought is how on earth can you grip the wheel to avoid an accident when you aren’t allowed to hold anything? Not being allowed to hold anything or lift does mean not being able to take care of a toddler.
Our thought has been to leave it to the surgeon- when he can write that she can drive, she can drive. But more than just a mention- we need it in writing.

Should be working February 1, 2013 at 9:14 pm

Since you don’t NEED her to drive, don’t let her. If your kids, she, or a stranger got hurt, you’d never forgive yourself. And she might never forgive herself.

I would ask a physical or occupational therapist to tell you when it is realistic for her to drive. As a veteran of a few major orthopedic surgeries, I can tell you that surgeons are NOT REALISTIC and NOT attuned to recovery-related everyday issues. The PTs and OTs are; that’s what they do.

Should be working February 1, 2013 at 9:15 pm

[And this is a perfect example of why I love long “recent comment” lists–the driving-in-a-cast issue doesn’t come up much, but when it does, the asker wants people to see the question!]

Taking a Computer Lunch February 1, 2013 at 10:59 pm

Personally, I would suspend all driving (including personal). As someone who has had multiple breaks (albeit not in the arms), I agree with SBW – the moment to hand her the keys is NOT when the doc says it’s okay, but when the physical therapist stays it’s okay. Her arm is going to be stiff and weak for a while after the cast comes off.

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