Does Distracted Driving Endanger Your Kids?

by Tyson Beazley

Transport Child SafelyWe've seen the pedestrian swarms of people heading down the street like zombies, texting as they walk.
If you've been in the right spot at the right time, you might have seen one of these "walkers" stumble off the sidewalk or worse yet, walk right out into traffic.

Fort Lee, New Jersey has recently addressed this growing issue. The age of smartphones has created dumb people. Following the third pedestrian fatality this year, police said they will begin issuing $85 jaywalking tickets to pedestrians who are caught texting while walking.

Two professors at Stony Brook University in New York conducted a study on walking and texting. They found people who text while they walk are 60 percent more likely to get into an accident than non-texters.

If distracted walking can cause accidents, what about distracted driving?

Distracted Driving Causes Accidents

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, each day at least 15 people are killed and more than 1200 injured in crashes reported to involve a distracted driver.

Distraction can be separated into three categories:
• Visual: Taking your eyes off the road
• Manual: Taking your hands off the wheel
• Cognitive: Taking your mind off what you're doing

Kids Can Be Visual and Mental Distractions

The results of this study shouldn't come as a surprise to any parent who has driven "under the influence" of a screaming toddler. A 2007 news release from the University of Sidney said that drivers with passengers were almost 60 percent more likely to have a motor vehicle crash resulting in hospital attendance. With two or more passengers, the likelihood doubled.

You can't stop transporting your children, but you can plan ahead to reduce the possibilities of distractions. Try these suggestions:

Set the stage for a happy child. Try to drive when your child's full and well-rested. If you'll be on the road a while, plan rest and run stops.

Before you hit the road do a bathroom stop, get a drink of water and locate that favorite car toy. Keep the things you suspect your child might need nearby for easy access.

Be flexible. Will you be stuck in heavy traffic with a less than patient child? See if you can rearrange your schedule or route for a less chaotic trip.

Bring your emergency "kid box." Include toys, music, books and games that could entertain your child. Add a spare change of clothes, snacks, drinks and medication. If you get stuck in traffic, you can relax because you have what you need with you.

Talk on your cell phone in the car? Researchers at the same institute found that cell phone use while driving increased your risk of an accident fourfold. Will that change the way you use your phone?

Talking on Cellphone Affects Driving More than Drinking

A British study found that when subjects were asked to do memory tests, reasoning, and mental arithmetic, that cellphone use did affect driving skill. They compared it to drunk driving.

The famous science TV show "Mythbusters" checked this theory out in episode 33. For the test, the drivers went to Infineon Raceway near Sonoma. The test course had four parts:

  • Accelerate to 30mph and then stop at a stop sign
  • Parallel park
  • Time trial: average 15mph through the whole course (not faster or slower)
  • Accident avoidance: while going 30mph, switch to left, right, or center lane

Each part was graded by an instructor who was in the car with them. While neither drinking nor talking, both drivers passed the course, though one had a bit of trouble parallel parking.

During the cell phone distraction test, the both drivers failed. The first driver's attempt included offenses such as using her elbow to steer and failing over half of the obstacles.

For the second test, the driver's blood alcohol level was just below 0.08 (legal limit), with police officers on hand to do the breathalyzer.

The first driver zipped through the stop sign, but succeeded at parallel parking. She went too fast through the time trial part and killed a couple cones. She failed again, but not as bad as with the cellphone test. The second driver failed the parking test, and "half failed" the time trial for not looking both ways. Overall he failed as well.

The cellphone tests were failed by a much bigger margin than driving while under the influence of alcohol. The good news is that you can put your cell phone down.

Texting While Driving

All distractions can endanger the driver's, passenger's and bystander's safety. Distractions can include activities like eating and drinking, talking to passengers, grooming, using a navigational device and adjusting a radio or MP3 player. Using a cell phone or smartphone, especially to text requires visual, manual and cognitive attention from the driver. It's said to be the most alarming and dangerous distraction.

In the United States, 9 percent of the drivers report that they text or e-mail regularly or fairly often while driving. The numbers jump to more than 25 percent within the 18- to 25-year-old group.

According to the United States Department of Transportation, in 2009, 5,474 people were killed on U.S. roadways and an estimated additional 448,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes that were reported to have involved distracted driving.

Sending or receiving a text takes a driver's eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, that's like driving the length of an entire football field, blindfolded.

During National Transportation Week, we encourage you to examine at your cell phone use on the road. Would your child be safer if you made changes and reduced distractions? Will you change your habits after reading this article? Tell us all about it!