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Children are 12 times more distracting to a driver than a mobile phone

A new survey finds that the average parent takes their eyes off the road for three minutes and 22 seconds during a 16-minute trip.

EVER BEEN DRIVING along trying to focus on your driving with a wailing child throwing a strop in the back seat.

If this is familiar scene to you, then you might agree with a new survey that says that children are 12 times more distracting to a driver than talking on a mobile phone while at the wheel.

In a first-of-its-kind study, Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) in Victoria, Australia finds that an average parent takes their eyes off the road for three minutes and 22 seconds during a 16-minute trip.


Associate Professor Judith Charlton and Dr Sjaan Koppel at MUARC used cars fitted with a discrete recording system which monitored the driving behaviour of 12 families over three weeks. The families had an average of two children, between 1-8 years of age.

The study analysed 92 trips for any potentially distracting activities undertaken by the driver. This included all activities that distracted the driver or competed for their attention while driving which included looking away from the forward roadway for more than two seconds while the vehicle was in motion.

92 car trips

The results showed that drivers were observed engaging in potentially distracting activities in 90 of the 92 trips.

The most frequent types of distractions included turning to look at the child in the rear seat or watching the rear-view mirror (76.4 per cent), engaging in conversation with the child (16 per cent), assisting the child (7 per cent) and playing with the child (1 per cent).

Associate Professor Charlton said while the risks of distraction during driving are becoming increasingly well known, drivers often don’t consider how distracting their children can be.

The study found that one of the things that can prevent children from being distracting is ensuring that they are restrained in their seat properly.

The researchers found children were in the incorrect position for over 70 per cent of the journey time.

Garda Superintendent Joe Doherty said:

Even if you believe your child car seats are correctly fitted it’s still worth going along to a shop that sells car seats that has qualified staff and getting them checked out by an expert just to make sure.

Upon the survey’s results, the Road Safety Department of Mayo County Council has issued tips to keep parents focused while driving.

  • Be prepared: Before you put the kids in the car, make sure you have items that they may need easily on hand or within reach. For babies, plan for snacks before you depart as eating in the car may not be the best practice due to your limited ability to react to choking or spills. For older kids, put snacks and drinks so that they are accessible and toys within easy reach. In all cases, make sure that any heavier items such as video games or larger books have a place to be stored such as in the seatback pockets so that they won’t become potential projectiles in the event of a crash.
  • Make them wait: Tell your kids that you cannot help because you are driving and that they will need to wait until you can pull over or until you get to your destination. You may have to listen to a tantrum, but at least the child is restrained in a seat and cannot hurt anyone.
  • Keep your eyes forward. Resist the urge to reach back or take your eyes off the road even when you’re stopped. It only takes a second for an accident to occur.
  • Pull over. If you cannot deal with screaming and need to tend to your child immediately, pull over to a safe spot. It’s safer to get off the road and go into a filling station, than move to the side of the road where you could face other hazards such as the possibility of getting struck by another vehicle.
  • Use your mirrors. If your children are in rear-facing car seats, attach a mirror to the head restraint to be able to monitor them.
  • Set the ground rules. Educate children on car safety. Tell them that parents need to pay attention to the road, so that everyone is safe.
  • Distract your children. Try to distract by engaging them in a song or game outside of the car. Children’s music in the CD player or on satellite radio is a nice addition. Pointing out school buses, fire trucks, and traffic lights always seems to work for us and soon they forget what was bothering them in the first place.
  • Stay off the phone. For the safety of yourself and your children (and others on the road), refrain from using a mobile phone to talk or text. You’re carrying precious cargo and your job is to transport them safely. Not to mention you may be potentially setting a poor example. If you need to make a call, pull over to a safe place.

Read: The all-time scariest things your parents said to you as a kid>

Read: ISPCC publishes tips on keeping children safe>

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