Are Children a Bigger Driving Distraction than Cell Phones?

Are Children a Bigger

A great deal of emphasis regarding distracted driving is placed on the usage of mobile devices, eating, applying makeup and other activities. But have you considered the distractions that may occur when driving with children?

Staying focused on the road is critical when turning, braking, merging, and changing lanes. Roughly 80% of accidents and 65% of “close calls” involve a driver who is distracted in some way. A recent report by the Monash University Accident Research Center explained how parents are operating their vehicles in a risky manner when tending to children. Their findings suggest that those driving with child passengers are 12 times more likely to be in a car accident.

The Monash University Accident Research Center Study on Driving with Child Passengers

Researchers placed cameras in the vehicles of 12 families for three weeks of monitoring and assessment. Although researchers saw examples of drivers talking on phones, they also noticed other disturbing distracted behavior. One driver was searching for a cell phone and took her eyes off of the road for six seconds. Some of those observed to be text messaging, took their eyes off of the road for roughly four seconds. Other activity included turning around tending to children and long periods of observing the children in the rearview mirror. One proposed solution from this study was to use the application Zoom Safer, which temporarily mutes incoming alerts and sends an automated response to let the caller know that you are currently unavailable, but this solution is only good for cell phone use, not distractions due to children.

Charlie Klauer, an engineer for Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute, does considerable research regarding distracted driving. Klauer recently observed a driver taking their eyes off of the road for four seconds while traveling 60 miles per hour on a highway. One mother who Klauer observed claimed she never realized the danger that she was placing her children in when coping with all the distractions. Her eyes repeatedly left the roadway ahead as she was handed an empty snack container, tuning the DVD player, and watching her passengers in the rearview mirror. Klauer ultimately awarded her a failing grade in driving safety.

Studies have shown that the age of the child may impact the potential for creating distractions; infants generally are the most distracting. Approximately 76% of parents tend to turn around to observe or interact with children in the back seat while driving. About 16% of parents spent significant time conversing with their kids and 7% routinely reach into the back seat to pass items back and forth. In one 16-minute vehicle ride, the driver had his eyes off of the road for a period of 3 minutes and 22 seconds, over 20% of the time spent driving. Newer moms tend to be the most distracted and likely to be under stress and experiencing fatigue. Other observations included playing music too loudly to calm down a child who is crying, retrieving items dropped on the floor, and feeding children with bottles.

Solutions to Child Passenger Distractions

What are some of the possible solutions to dealing with the problem? Here are some of the common recommendations:

  • Norland College introduced an educational class regarding safe driving with children for childcare professionals; parents may benefit from reviewing similar educational-type materials.
  • One common reason for child-related distraction is because the child is improperly secured in their car safety seat.
  • You can establish expectations and rules with your children about traveling in the car.
  • Children should know that if they drop something, it will not be retrieved until the vehicle stops.
  • Always maintain some kind of snack for kids on-hand in ready-to-eat containers such as pouches that can be easily opened.
  • Infanttech has an in-car monitoring system for babies that has shown to reduce distraction by up to 76% of the time.
  • You should mentally prepare yourself to avoid tantrums or crying so you reduce the distractions this behavior causes.
  • If traveling somewhere that the children are eager to go, simply turn the car around and head home as punishment for those misbehaving in the car.
  • Do not allow the family dog to freely roam the vehicle, as it can create distractions, noise, and other problems.

As a parent, you have to drive with your kids, but you should be aware that the distractions they pose can place them in danger if you do not control it. To many parents, they wouldn’t think that looking in the rearview mirror for 4 seconds was a danger, but according to this study, it most certainly is. Stay safe, and drive safe with your children.

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