You might think that parents are more careful about avoiding driving distractions, such as texting or talking on a cellphone, because they carry child passengers. However, a University of Michigan study recently published in Academic Pediatrics reports that parents are just as likely to drive while distracted as drivers from the general population.
In fact, 90% of parent drivers reported engaging in at least one of 10 driving distractions researched in the study while driving with their child as a passenger, according to lead study author Michelle L. Macy, M.D., M.S. Two-thirds of the parents surveyed admitted to talking on their cell phones while driving with their child in the car while one-third said they’ve texted while driving their child. These statistics are similar to those of the general driving population.
Unlike drivers in the general population, parents admitted to engaging in other distractions more frequently than they admitted to talking or texting on a cell phone. For example, many parent drivers admitted to giving their child passengers food or picking up a toy, actions that require drivers to both take their hands off the wheel and their eyes off the road.
Understanding which driving distractions parents engage in the most is an important discovery for researchers because it reveals the need to consider various sources of driver distractions, not just cell phone use, when children are in the car. According to Macy, about 1 in 6 fatal traffic crashes that occurred in 2008 resulted from distracted driving, a percentage that has likely increased since then. However, by determining what is distracting parents with child passengers, we can better address and work towards reducing distracted driving-related crashes involving children.
Macy points out that the survey also raises concerns of what we’re teaching our children. Parents who drive while distracted with their children in the car are not only putting their children in danger but are setting a bad example.
Macy hopes that the results of this survey will expand efforts to improve child passenger safety to include reducing distracted driving and discouraging unsafe driver behaviors, especially among parents with child passengers.