Crying infants and unruly children may be greater distractions for a driver who is the only adult in a car than are texting or using a cell phone. Undisciplined and unrestrained pets also present problems.
1. Driver distraction causes 80% of crashes and 65% of near-crashes. Surveys show that children are four times as distracting to drivers as are other adult passengers, and infants are eight times more. Most significant distractions occur within three seconds before the crash/near crash. The more kids in the car, the greater the likelihood of such problems occurring. In Australia, one in five parents report that actions by their children led to an accident or a “near miss.”
2. Routine driving distractions are compounded by misbehaving children. Before setting out, check your fuel supply. Are you going on a route you are unfamiliar with? Frequently having to look at a GPS or stopping to check maps are major distractions. Do you know where you are going to park? What is your next step after you take the kid(s) out of the car? Honking at friends causes mishaps; don’t do so even when older kids in your car ask you to.
3. Be aware of your own distractions. Being angry or upset, having a headache, or being sleep deprived adversely affects driving skills – and probably lowers your threshold for kids getting under your skin. Being aware of how you feel may help alleviate the negative effects of the kids’ behavior. Adverse effects from medications you take for your symptoms may further impede your ability to drive safely.
4. Prepare yourself mentally to ignore crying and tantrums. Do not reach into the backseat to tend to children while driving. Reaching requires you to take one hand off the steering wheel, shift your position in your seat, stretch your body, and move your feet from their optimum reaction location. Let children cry until you can safely park the car.
5. Prepare children for the trip. Do they have to go to the bathroom or need their diapers changed? (Do you have to go to the bathroom?) Plan to keep them occupied with snacks and toys, ones that they are unlikely to drop. Give them backup toys/snacks just in case. Bring their favorite DVD. Generally, the more times they have seen it, the better it will keep them occupied. For toddlers, point out places that will interest them.
6. If possible, place children so that you can see them in the rearview mirror. A variety of inexpensive mirror systems are available so that you can see rear-facing infants in the back seat. Some systems provide wide angle views and extra lighting. However, viewing them requires taking your eyes off the road. Some safety officials question whether these systems improve safety.
7. Be firm with discipline. Explain the importance of safety for older children. Tell them that excessive whining, tantrums, and roughhousing will be punished. If indeed, they misbehave on the way to a movie or to their favorite fast food restaurant, turn the car around and go back home. No negotiations. It is a lesson they will remember.
8. Evaluate teenagers before letting them drive your kids. A person’s greatest lifetime risk of crashing occurs in the first 6 to 12 months after receiving a license. Moreover, lots of teenagers are addicted to cell phones and texting. One in four admits to texting while driving and 40% say they have been in a car where another teen driver used a cell phone in a dangerous way. The use of cell phones, even hands-free ones, quadruples the risk of crashes. Among truck drivers, there is a 23-fold increase in risk of a crash/near crash when drivers text.
9. Dogs in cars can be more distracting than children. Though there are no statistics, safety officials believe that tens of thousands of car accidents each year are caused by unrestrained dogs. Freely roaming pets nudge drivers, sit on drivers’ laps, and, rarely, place their paws on the steering wheel. In crashes, unrestrained dogs become projectiles, seriously injuring others or themselves.
10. Children and pets in a car are a bad mix. Most children like nothing better than riling up their pets, creating all kinds of issues. One problem is getting both pets and kid(s) out of the car safely. Many pets have been killed in traffic or gotten lost while drivers are busy getting their kid(s) out of the car.