Why Safety Rules Matter

by cv harquail on January 30, 2010

I get a lot of crap from people about the safety rules at our house. Apparently we’re a little strict.

Probably our most prominent safety rules have to do with driving. For example, I don’t use my cellphone when I drive. I just don’t.

I’m that person who waits ’till she gets where she’s going, then parks and checks the phone. Or, I’m the person who puts on her blinker, pulls over to the side of the road, and then returns the call.

If someone else is in the car with me, I ask them to answer the phone for me. My kids even know to say, ‘Hi my mom’s driving so I’m answering her phone. May I help you?” My friends and family (usually the only folks who call me on my cell vs. at my office) don’t seem all that annoyed to have to wait a few minutes for me to call them back.

With our own au pairs, I’ve been pretty much of a hard ass about texting, talking on or using the cell phone in any way when our au pairs drive — either for their personal use or with the kids. If our au pairs use the cell phone when they are driving, they lose the privilege of having the car for personal use. That’s just how it is.

Parents should be safety role models

Using a hand-held cell phone is illegal in my state (of New Jersey). But I see moms and dads using their cell phones as they drive, all the time. All over town.

I wonder what kind of role model they are being for their children, their friends, and maybe even their kids’ caregivers.

My colleague Dan tipped me off to the video, below, as a great example of ’cause marketing‘… and I think it is also a great example of why safety rules matter. Watch it and see why– it’s only 30 seconds.

Find more videos like this on AdGabber

We Parents Know Better

Once upon a time, wearing seat belts was the crazy thing we learned to require of ourselves, our kids and our au pairs. We did it to keep ourselves and others safe. It took a while for some au pairs to get adjusted to this rule, and I’m sure a few grumbled about it, but they ultimately made it a habit. Now, using safety belts is required by law.

The new behavior we need to adopt to keep us safe is to NOT use cell phones when we drive. Period.  Sure, it’s more convenient just to answer the phone– why bother even pulling over? It will only take a second. Right.

Behind every safety rule, no matter how annoying or inconvenient, is the same principle:

We follow these rules because life is precious.

Want Safe Driving? Forbid your Au Pair to use the cellphone in the car. Period.
Using Your Car is a Privilege, not an Entitlement: Best practices
After the Car Accident: Advice on what to talk about with your Au Pair

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franzi January 30, 2010 at 4:02 pm

i am absolutely with you on this one. unfortunately, too many people seem to be oblivious to the dangers of being distracted while driving.

every modern cell has a speaker function now so there is no excuse not to use it while driving – no matter if the kids are in the car or not.
of course you can also have the kids answer the phone if they are old enough but i can also see that an AP would be uncomfortable doing that. so i guess it’s best to leave the phone in the purse while driving so there’s no temptation ;-)

Calif Mom January 30, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Right there with you, CV. People know that if I can’t answer the phone, I won’t. If it’s urgent they need to call back right away, and then I’ll take the time to stop driving and check the phone.

My kids wear their bike helmets while sledding. I do too if I go down with them. Our AP knows this is Not Optional. Last time they were on the hill, some “big boys” came with these new sleds that you stand on. My big kid wanted to try–because she had her helmet on, I was able to be “cool mom” and let her (I also know she has great balance–she whupped me on that fake surfboard at the NYC science museum when she was 3. Sorry, concussions really suck. I was the first to make my kids wear spf 50 sunguard swim suits at the pool, too. They look cool, and you know what? now most kids wear them at our pool. 5 years ago mine were the only ones.

Call me a killjoy, call me uptight, but if you ask my kids “What are the most important rules?” they will answer “Safety Rules!”

An accident involving someone speeding down a cozy little suburban street right into the door of my car cost me 4 months of work and had huge impact on our family that we still feel more than a year later. I don’t know if the other driver was on the phone or late for work or what (because I can’t remember the accident, infuriatingly), but we all do need to slow down, and get off the phone. It really does matter.

Jane January 30, 2010 at 8:16 pm

So glad you posted on this. I work in the transportation industry, and the proof of the dangers of texting/cell phone use are beyond a doubt. The problem–we all think we can do it at one point or another–it’s just a second, right? A second is all it takes to change your life or another’s forever. I insist everyone wait to make calls until they are finished driving. Can I enforce this 100 percent? Not really…that’s the hard part for everyone trying to solve this deadly problem. Another tip–don’t call your au pair when you know she’ll be driving.

Sara Duke January 30, 2010 at 9:08 pm

One of our rules for cell phone use is pull over to the curb and talk. Our “au pair car” has a manual transmission, and it’s nearly impossible — not to mention dangerous — to hold a cell phone, steer and shift at the same time.

Me, I hate the phone, and often forget to bring it with me (like today when the snow was flying, and while I learned to drive in the frozen north, the people around me obviously didn’t – doh!, I shudda had my cell!). We caught an au pair driving while talking, and while we didn’t suspend her privileges, we did tell her that if we caught her again we’d donate the au pair car to charity (that’s when our au pairs drove a clunker). Neither my husband nor I talk when we drive, and if there is a passenger, they get to answer the phone (otherwise no one does).

Au Pair in CO January 31, 2010 at 2:41 am

My host family set the same rule, and I really understand why. Driving while using a cell phone is dangerous, driving while using a cell phone in a different country with a different car is just insane.

Do you get a ticket for using your cell phone while driving in the US?

anonmom January 31, 2010 at 10:20 am

Yes, in most states you get a ticket for using a cell phone without hands free device while driving. In my countyl, you also can be ticketed for texting while driving.

Ton January 31, 2010 at 11:16 am

“We parents know better” ?!?! – siriously, what’s that about. Your opinion about aupairs does not seem that high (not only in this article but in lots of others). All the aupairs I know, care soo much about their kids and their safety. Last week my friend and I needed like 15 minutes to get the car seat for the baby in the car – just to make sure that it really is safe.

You know, somethines there are other parents who use a cell phone while driving. So believe me – sometimes aupairs know better. Sadly, most hostparents think it is rude of the aupair to give them advices about childcare and safety. … – often it ends in rematch.

The world is just soooo upsidedown sometimes…

CV January 31, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Ton, I think you misunderstand the idiom “you/we know better”…. the “better” comparison is not to someone else (it is *not* parents know better than au pairs). The comparison is between what the person/parent knows is right and what that person does. So to say “We parents know better” means to say– we parents know we should not phone while driving, and so we should act that way.
No need to take offense — this comment is not in reference to au pairs’ behavior.

It’s a drag that some host parents break their own rules and/or act unsafely. And, it is hard to give safety advice to others, especially those who are in positions of authority, when they are acting unsafely. If you’ve got some advice on how to do that, that you could share with au pairs and parents, we’d love to hear it.

Aupair January 31, 2010 at 4:24 pm

My HP use the phone all the time and don’t wear their seatbelts all the time, not sure if it a French thing. When the children are alone with me I am very very strict about keeping their seatbelt on. I refuse to move the car. When the parents are there, these children act up even more and while I am stuck in the back with them and they won’t put their seatbelts on I refuse to repeat myself, the parents should teach them the importance of safety, sometimes I feel like I am starting at the beginning in terms of politeness and manners.

I have to tell the kids to put on their seat belts and to keep them on until we come to a complete stop. This is all while the parents are still in the car. One day the four-year old that I am looking after opened the door before the car had stopped, I did the telling off and the mother was right there. the other children are 8 and 11, more than old enough to know the procedure when you get into a car.

Are aupairs meant to discipline the children because the parents won’t?

CV January 31, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Hi AP-

Sounds like you’d better wear your seatbelt, and pray that your HPs don’t get in an accident with the phone use!

I think that an AP should always follow the safety rules that she knows are important, whether or not the parents do, when she is in charge of the kids. Tell the kids that you are required by law to buckle them in. (In this case I think it’s okay to lie if for some reason you live where this isn’t the law).

If you are in the car with parents, and kids don’t have on seatbelts, you could ask “host parent, do you want Child to wear a seat belt, or do you want me to leave this as is?” —

I’m not sure if it is a good thing to press the rules OR discipline the child when the parents are there unless you are officially on duty. Even then I might bring this up in a conversation with your HPs– we have talked a little about this on the blog, since the question of ‘who’s in charge’ can be problematic when au pair and parents are both there. You might ask them, “In situations where I’m on duty and we are together, would you prefer me to to enforce the rules (since I’m working) or would you prefer as parents to reinforce the rules? And when I am not on duty but traveling with you, what would you prefer? Treat it as a conversation about being clear for the kids sake and your own.

JJ January 31, 2010 at 5:32 pm

It’s illegal to talk on the phone without a headset in California as well, and yet people do it all the time. It makes me crazy. Can’t they see how dangerous it is? I try to catch peoples’ eye and signal to them to hang up. Sometimes they look sheepish and do, when they see I have two kids in the car. Other times they just get p.o.’d at me.

Our au pair is too smart to do this. I’m not worried about her. Not worried about us either – we never even use the cell phone, much less in the car. It’s the other people out there who worry me.

Anonymous January 31, 2010 at 11:01 pm

People ( including my aupairs ) get annoyed at me because I will not pick upu the phone while driving. I do not care. Sometimes I am just out of range because I am driving. I do not take very long trips – to my office and back. Anyone calling me can just wait a couple of minutes.
They can also leave a message on my voice mail. If people don’t like this, well, I am sorry they feel that way. That’s who I am.
I also need some time when I am not wired for sound. This makes me a more effective mother and a more effective host mother. I check my calls often and return them but no, I am not available to everybody every second of every day.

PA Au Pair Mom February 1, 2010 at 10:15 am

We have the “no calls while driving” rule. We also have a manual transmission in our AP car and it makes it nearly impossible and even more dangerous.

Our AP’s 2nd (of 3) accidents occurred when she backed into my mother’s car in our driveway while trying to manuever out of the garage, talk on her cell phone, shift gears and operate the windshield wipers all at once. She claimed she was not on the phone but HD checked her call log on our cell phone bill, and she was in fact talking at the time.

We took away her cell phone priviledges. We were hesitant to do so, but this was the third time that she had been “caught” driving and talking at the same time after MULTIPLE requests not to do so.

She was angry and, of course, reported to our LCC who told us we should return the phone to her (we paid for it and the monthly service). We refused and she threw a HUGE fit and called the corportate AP agency office. They told her a cell phone is a PRIVILEDGE and not a requirement at which time she called the representative an “a**hole” with “no f***ing brains”.

She went out and bought herself a tracfone and continued to use it in the car while driving.

Our current AP isn’t in to using the phone much at all, and she’s very safety concious, which has been a huge relief for us.

Darthastewart February 1, 2010 at 11:00 am

Wow. Some of this stuff you just can’t make up.

PA Au Pair Mom February 1, 2010 at 11:31 am

I WISH that I was making that up!!! My kids and my mother heard her yelling at the rep on the phone and then the representative herself told me.

Sara Duke February 1, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Here’s a way to stop some driving while phoning – remove the fuse that controls the cigarette lighter (your car’s manual should tell you where the fuse box is, from there it might be hit or miss). You can’t necessarily stop the driving for those AP that don’t use a jack to reduce battery loss, but you can stop those who do.

TX Mom February 1, 2010 at 11:05 am

There are so many examples of why texting/cell phone use is life threatening when operating a vehicle. Sounds like a very immature AP if she can’t appreciate the facts; I believe we had to watch movies of auto fatalities in driver’s education to appreciate the power of automobiles. Maybe movies like that should be made on cell phone use.

PA Au Pair Mom February 1, 2010 at 11:33 am

There is a british PSA on texting while driving where 3 or 4 teenage girls are in the car together and the driver is texting. They cause an accident with a family and the little girl in the child seat in the back of the family car keeps saying “why won’t mommy wake up???”

I showed it to our AP and she was horrified by it.

Anonymous February 1, 2010 at 2:14 pm

And you DIDN’T rematch after that?!

PA Au Pair Mom February 1, 2010 at 2:56 pm

She only had a few weeks left after that. I just waited it out.

franzi February 1, 2010 at 3:04 pm

oh goodness…i hope she wasn’t using the phone (her own) with your kids in the car. if she was then this would have been my reason to rematch. i cannot believe that if she knows you are so strict about this (and she ran into accidents while doing it) she still didn’t catch on…

PA Au Pair Mom February 1, 2010 at 3:08 pm

She did not have the kids in the car at the time. I found out later that she was “occasionally” making calls while the boys were in the car. She promised them extra “goodies” to not tell mommy. I didn’t find that out though until she was already back home.

franzi February 1, 2010 at 3:54 pm

really? at least she knew she was doing something you did not approve of. not that it would have changed her behavior. sigh

on the other hand, maybe host families reading this will start “interrogating” their kids a little more now. not a method i approve of if it is a healthy relationship. but in this case i would have been all for it. it’s saddening to see how some girls take advantage of their hosts and show no respect.

TX Mom February 1, 2010 at 5:33 pm

This is probably a new topic: “getting the real scoop from your kids.” Every now and then I let our AP know that our kids tell *everything.* I’m not trying to undermine the AP/HP or AP/kids relationships, because I also rely on getting information from AP when the kids aren’t being upfront.

Anonymous February 1, 2010 at 1:31 pm

In our household handbook, we made it patently clear that driving our car in her free time is a privelege. In the event that safety is compromised (no belts, talking/texting, getting speeding tix, drinking and driving) we will remove all use of the car in her free time. If it’s bad enough, (drunk driving accident) we can’t let her drive for work either and will be grounds for an immediate rematch (we NEED a driver). I routinely ask the 5yo about seat belts and phone use by the way. :)

Midwest Mom February 1, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Five year olds are great for telling on the au pairs! Our five year old told on our au pair for making calls while driving. She thought it was funny that she could drive with one hand and dial with the other. We had to lay down the law on that one…and eventually we went into rematch anyway.

PacificNW_mom February 1, 2010 at 2:11 pm

Safety while driving isn’t only about cellphone use. We had an au pair that would get “road rage” when she felt another driver cut her off, would drive up really close to their bumper and give them the finger. Our kids told us about it (when my son demonstrated the finger and said, “you know what that means, mom, *&%$ *&^!). Yikes.

franzi February 1, 2010 at 3:07 pm

that’s why i only used specific german words (or made some up) that the kids wouldn’t pick up so easily. but then again i tried to remain calm despite DC traffic. once a week or so i had a weak moment…

NoVA Host Mom February 1, 2010 at 2:47 pm

Luckily, we don’t have, need, or even want a driver at this point. In the beginning I thought we might like one, but since we got our first AP when our first child was just 2 months old (I am due with the second in about 6 weeks), I decided there was no need for the AP to be driving the baby anywhere. After driving with the 1st AP (who wanted the car for personal use), I was very glad that we did not allow it (she’s the one we terminated).

Our current does not drive here yet, but we are okay with letting her get the license and letting her use the car to go to church. With the traffic in our area, no way am I comfortable with the car going to school. However, I don’t think I will let her drive the kids anywhere. Seriously? The whole idea just makes me way too nervous!

Anonymous February 1, 2010 at 6:59 pm

I think it is just awful that kids have to be put in the postion of tattling on the aupair. God knows, though, I want to know the truth about what is happening during the day. I also have my neighbors
having a look see during the day : popping in to say hello and just checking the lay of the land. Not all aupairs appreciate this but hell, these are my kids. All of the parenting magazines recommend surprize visits to make sure your nanny is on the up and up. But I still think it is very unfortunate that the kids have to be in this position.

Darthastewart February 1, 2010 at 10:22 pm

I have made it clear to my kids that they _must_ tell me if the AP engages in any of this sort of behavior, and I will take it up with the AP. Unfortunately, the AP that just departed the house today, was able to maintain such discipline with them, that they did whatever she wanted, and didn’t complain that it was wrong.
(Case in point she made the three older kids -11, 9, and 6 sit in their rooms for 3 hours a day during track out because the toddler (3 yo) was napping, and the AP was making my older two wash all of the bottles by hand because she couldn’t be bothered to do them herself.. And the list goes on. ) Sometimes I wish the kids would tell me more.

Mom23 February 2, 2010 at 10:13 am


I don’t think it is so much as the kids tattling on the au pair, but as a parent I want to know about their day. I want to know the good and the bad that went on. I try to never undermine the au pair’s authority in front of the kids, but I will have a talk with the au pair if I disagree about how she handled something.

Calif Mom February 3, 2010 at 9:55 am

Go watch that ad that CV posted if you haven’t already (unless you’re pregnant; when I was preg I remember a phone company ad reduced me to tears for the better part of a morning!)

NoVA Host Mom February 3, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Yeah, I think I’ll wait to watch it. I was just reduced to tears because I set up a pack-n-play in the master bedroom and the sight of it reminded me just how close we are to a second child in the house.

susan brindisi November 11, 2010 at 2:43 pm

there is an app called drivesafely.com and what it does is reads you ur text message while u r driving if someone calls..pretty cool! and it lets the person know u r driving and will read the driver ur text..

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