An Australian study found that driving with children in the car is twelve times more distracting than using a cell phone while driving.
When you think about it, that’s not surprising. Besides the normal conversation that children engage us in, there’s also crying, yelling, nagging, whining, bickering, singing annoying songs, and endless games of I-spy. And those are just the audible components.
Add to it the toy-dropping, punching of siblings, and frantic waving of hands for no particular reason. Then add in the help opening the snack package, the handing-back of the snack package, and then your desperate contortions as you try to retrieve the empty packet before your child dumps the crumbs all over his or her car seat.
Those kids are kind of distracting, aren’t they?
The study found that during a 16-minute trip, parents’ eyes were off the road for almost 3.5 minutes, mainly from glancing in the rear-view mirror at their kids. Some even positioned the mirror to focus on their children rather than on the cars behind them.
I felt very smug reading the study and some articles about it. I hardly ever look back at my kids. Maybe I’m lucky in that they’re generally pretty well behaved in the car, or maybe I’m just really good at ignoring them, but that aspect just isn’t an issue for me.
They’re also at ages now where I can pretty much rely on them to hold onto their trash, and they know that if they drop a toy, they’re out of luck. Reaching for a dropped item is something I will not ever, ever do while I’m driving.
But then there’s the part about conversation…and I’m guilty of that one. Just as with the other party in a cell phone conversation, kids aren’t usually aware of what’s going on outside the car. They have constant comments and questions that need answering, and not always at the best times. I remember recently when I was trying to explain the history of child labor laws to an inquisitive 5-year-old while also navigating a tricky highway interchange. When things get too intense or distracting, I do sometimes tell my kids to wait a minute, then get back to them once I’m done backing out or merging or whatever I was doing.
One conclusion made by the researchers (that likely won’t come as a surprise to readers of this blog) is that properly restraining children probably leads to less distraction by the parents. This particular study showed that the children involved were incorrectly positioned 70% of the time, which could certainly lead to a need for increased attention by the parents. Chalk up another benefit to child restraints: Besides protecting kids in a crash, they can help prevent them in the first place.