You can just call her "Driver of the Momvan."
Many parents call on Elizabeth Kern, of Marietta, to get their children to and from after-school activities.
"If only the momvan could talk ... there have been some very interesting conversations," Kern joked.
ERIN O’NEILL The Marietta Times
A line of cars move forward as children are picked up at Putnam Elementary School Thursday. Putnam principal Jona Hall said overall the process runs smoothly, but carpooling would alleviate some of the traffic. More parents are taking advantage of carpools to get busy children to school, games, rehearsals and practices.
In the past, her seven passenger mini-van has hauled crew members, golf teams, basketball and soccer players and cheerleaders. Now the van is full of dancing girls most nights as it makes its way back and forth from Marietta Dance Academy.
With an increase in the number of activities many children are involved in and the high price of gas, more and more parents are opting to share transportation responsibilities.
Kara Corridan, health editor of Parents magazine, says carpooling may be more common now because more women have re-entered the workforce; fewer children walk to school; and there are more extracurricular activities, and sports being offered at younger ages. Without sharing the driving, parents say they couldn't do all they want for their children.
Starting a carpool
Consider neighborhood families for your carpool. Driving out of your way to pick up a child in your carpool won't really save you any time or driving.
Create a schedule with two or three families and try to stick to it so each family can make plans around the days they don't drive.
Make firm rules for the road with the other parents and drivers. Safety is key.
Set ground rules for the youngsters. Rules like wearing seat belts, hands inside the car at all times, no fighting and being polite are all possibilities.
Meet with the other parents and decide in advance how you'll handle stragglers or misbehavers or children with medical issues.
Keep a contact list of all parents in case you need to get in touch.
Check in with parents when picking up and dropping off the children.
Make sure everyone is buckled and settled in the car before you leave. Make sure you have enough booster seats, if needed.
Keep quiet games, music and activities in the car to keep children occupied. This can help keep riders entertained so you can focus on the road. Again, safety is key in any carpooling scenario.
Give as much advance notice as possible if plans change.
On the web
Carpool driver safety checklist:
"For some parents, it's vital," says Corridan, whose own family began helping another with rides after the mother went back to work.
A line of traffic can usually be found any given day inching along Masonic Park Road in Devola as parents approach to drop off or pick up children at Putnam Elementary School.
"Carpooling would definitely be a better option," said principal Jona Hall. "But I'm just impressed beyond belief with the teachers and parents. They've really got it down."
Families should be aware of each school's pick-up and drop-off policy as well if they are going to turn the duties over to someone else.
"It must be well-documented who they are riding with," said Hall. "If we don't have the documentation to tell us who will be picking up the child, we don't let them go."
With more seven-seat (or larger) vehicles on the market today than there were 10 years ago, more families are also now driving big cars, says TrueCar.com analyst Jesse Toprak. TrueCar.com found that eight of the 10 most popular cars bought by drivers ages 28 to 45 in 2009 and 2010 had at least seven seats.
"The main buyers of the vehicles are the parents with school-age children, which clearly, at that age group, carpooling becomes a factor," Toprak says.
While it might cost more to fill up a larger vehicle, the payoff comes with not having to drive as far as often.
Families might also be carpooling more in part to live a "green" lifestyle and be environmentally conscious role models for their children, and they're more familiar with and open to the concept of carpooling, according to Raymond De Young, a professor of environmental psychology and planning at the University of Michigan who has studied workplace carpooling.
One thing that carpoolers may not always take into consideration, however, is the fact that every single child in the vehicle who is less than 8 years old or is not at least 4 feet, 9 inches tall should be in a booster seat.
"It is a law now, required by the state of Ohio," said Jonni Tucker, registered nurse and Safekids Coalition coordinator with the Marietta City Health Department. "I think more people are aware of it now where before even the most well-educated parents would forget. Now if they do, it's usually in situations like this (carpooling, riding with grandparents or other family members)."
Booster seats are available at the health department for those who qualify. The limit is one per child.
Along with boosters for each child that falls within the criteria, those younger than 13 should not be permitted to ride up front.
"Children should sit in a seat that has a lap and shoulder belt. Most cars 2003 or newer do. But the back seat is definitely the safest place for children," Tucker said.
A checklist for carpoolers is available at www.safekids.org and it includes such safety items as "I drive only as many occupants as there are safety belts" and "I never leave children alone in the car, even for a few minutes."
Tucker said that drivers and parents of those being driven should work together.
"Carpooling is an excellent idea but as parents, we need to make sure that every child is riding safely in whatever vehicle they ride in," she said.
The Associated Press contributed.