Distracted drivers account for 80 percent of vehicle crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes, and with increased frequency, the distractions happened within three seconds before the accident, according to a study done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). If you are a parent, the reality of daily life is that you are constantly going somewhere. There’s sports practice, cheerleading and dance classes, school activities, clubs, friends, church, work, shopping, bank, other errands, and you are always on the go. That means there is a lot of micromanagement happening, but you must remind yourself to take serious care and focus on the task at hand when you are behind the wheel of a car. You hold the safety of those kids in your hands, even if they are complaining about who’s touching whom, who is throwing crayons or snacks, or yelling from the back about how hungry they seem to be at the moment, safety while driving needs to be at the forefront of your mind.
Here is a list of some things parents do while driving, that perhaps may be better if they were to focus more driving than these distractions. Maybe we can’t lose all distractions, but if we try, we can minimize some of them.
- Music – Multiple requests coming from the backseat for certain songs can become a nuisance. When it comes to altering the dials of your car’s sound system, you have a few options: adjust your car stereo to the station or setting you want before you begin to drive, take advantage of routine stops to adjust your radio, or ask a passenger to change it for you.
- Family Pet – A pet on the loose in a moving car is putting undue risk on yourself and others. A child is not allowed to move around the car freely or sit in your lap while driving, and to some their pet is not unlike a child. Please keep every person and pet BFF safe by properly securing your animal companion in a pet carrier, portable kennel, or specially designed pet harness while you’re driving. Never allow your pet to sit in your lap while you are behind the wheel.
- Video – If distracted driving collisions happen three seconds after the driver was distracted, then common sense tells you that if the driver shifts their visual attention toward a video while driving it is NOT the safest choice. So choose to use good judgment and refrain from watching any video until you get home, as that is your safest option.
- Navigation system/GPS – Some cars have touch-based navigation systems built in, however you still need to take your eyes off the road and your hands off the steering wheel to operate it. One recent study determined that even hands-free use of a phone is dangerous, your safest choice is to use a voice-controlled tracking system, so you don’t have to take your hands off the wheel.
- Read (including maps) – Concentrating on reading anything, including texts, maps or directions, takes your eyes off the road long enough to put you and your passengers in danger. Safer options are to read what you need to before you begin to drive, while you are at a stoplight, or to pull over to the side of the road.
- Grooming – The results of a survey showed that nearly 70 percent of parent drivers admitted to some grooming while driving. Tip: Your hair, face and the makeup applied to it will still be there when your vehicle comes to a complete stop!
- Talking to passengers – In this case, it would most likely be talking to your kids! Taking your mind off the road by giving directives to the kiddos or communicating with them by looking in the rear view mirror are dangerous activities that grab your focus off the road. Tell your mini passengers beforehand about your expectations to keep conversation to a minimum while driving, and keep them busy with quiet activities. Anything else that you need to discuss can take place once the wheels stop turning.
- Food and beverage intake – Okay, so everyone is hungry, the fast food place has beckoned to you, and you are pulling into the drive through. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) reminds drivers that eating is not all they are doing—they are opening packages, reaching, leaning, spilling, wiping and cleaning themselves and their kids. You, your children, and your burgers can find a better place to hang out together. Try pulling over at the nearest park, heading straight to your house, or eating with friends at their house; even the fast-food parking lot will do.
- Daydreaming – It is important to keep your eyes and mind on the road. Some tips to keep you alert are:
- Keep your eyes moving. Change your gaze every two seconds so you don’t get “the stares.”
- Interact with your environment by imagining “what-if” scenarios. “What if that truck merges into my lane?” “What if I get off at this exit instead of the next?” These questions feed your subconscious with valuable data that keeps you alert.
- Chew something, for example gum. Chewing keeps you alert.
- Try different routes. New routines keep your mind working and alert, avoiding the doldrums that can sometimes set in with routines.
- Using a cell phone – Being on your phone in any capacity while driving is dangerous—it is also illegal in most states. The fact remains that engaging in any visual-manual subtasks, such as reaching for a phone, dialing, or texting increases the risk of a collision. Studies have shown that driving performance is lowered, and the level of distraction is higher for drivers engaging in cell phone conversations. It’s not worth risking your life, the lives of your children, or the lives of pedestrians. Remember, it can wait until you have arrived safely at your destination.
A parent’s actions are on display for all little eyes that are watching from the backseat, choose to be a good example by keeping safe practices when out on the road.