Crying infants and unruly children may be a greater distraction 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. Distraction of all kinds cause 80% of crashes and 65% of near-crashes. Distractions contribute to 16% of all fatal crashes, leading to around 5,000 deaths every year. Children are four times as distracting to drivers as are adult passengers, and infants are eight times more. The more kids in the car, the greater the likelihood problems occurring. In Australia, one in five parents report that actions by their children led to an accident or a “near miss,” with men reporting being distracted more than women.
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 it even if children ask you to.
3. There are three main types of accident-causing distractions. Tending to children figure in all three – often simultaneously:
● manual – moving your hands from the steering wheels.
● visual – focusing your eyes away from the road.
● cognitive – letting your mind wander away from concentrating on driving.
4. 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.
5. 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. Accepting a used candy wrapper from a child in the backseat requires you taking a hand off the steering wheel, takes about three seconds. It that time your car travels 130 feet (40 meters) at 30 miles (48 kilometers) an hour. Apps are available that block incoming messages and send automated responses saying you are driving and will answer when you can.
6. Prepare children for the trip. Do they have to use the toilet or need their diapers changed? (Do you have to use the toilet?) Plan to keep kids occupied with age-appropriate snacks and toys, ones that they are unlikely to drop. Bring their favorite DVD. Point out places that will interest them.
7. Place children so that they are visible in the rearview mirror. 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.
8. Be firm with discipline. Explain the importance of safety for older children. Tell them that excessive whining, tantrums, and roughhousing is unacceptable. If they do misbehave on the way to a movie or to their favorite fast food restaurant, for example, turn the car around and go back home. No negotiations.
9. Evaluate other drivers 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. Many teenagers are addicted to cell phones. One in four admits to texting while driving and 40% say they have witnessed other teen driver use cell phones unsafely. The use of cell phones, even hands-free ones, quadruples the risk of crashes. Evaluate nannies and grandparents, for example, for their driving skills with crying infants and unruly children. In Britain, a school for nannies teaches proper driving with children. (Or let them read this article.)
10. Dogs in cars can be as distracting as children. 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. Moreover, most children enjoy riling up their pets, creating all kinds of disturbances. One problem is getting both pets and kid(s) out of the car safely. Pets have been killed in traffic or gotten lost while drivers are busy getting a child out of the car.