WASHINGTON – While most parents consider children precious cargo, their driving habits don’t always reflect that.
New research finds many parents admit to multi-tasking behind the wheel, putting their kids and others at risk.
“There’s a significant increase in crash risk for those parents who said that they’ve been distracted while driving,” says the lead author of a study on parental distracted driving conducted by University of Michigan researchers.
Nearly nine out of 10 parents in the study admit to at least one technology-based distraction within the past month while driving with children under 12 in the car.
The most common offense is talking on a handheld cellphone, according to study lead author Dr. Michelle Macy, clinical lecturer in the departments of Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics at University of Michigan and C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.
The study also finds most drivers admit to being guilty of at least four out of 10 distractions detailed by researchers. Some of the common distractions include eating or feeding children, texting or surfing the internet, and picking up a game or toy the child has dropped in the back seat.
“My research is resonating with me as a parent and it’s definitely making me think about what I’m doing when I’m driving as well,” says Macy.
The study also finds a correlation between the number of parents reporting distracted driving and those who don’t properly restrain children in the car according to Michigan law.
Children between 1 and 3 years old are supposed to be in car seats according to Michigan law while car seats and booster seats are required for children between 4 and 7.
Parents who report not following child restraint laws while driving have greater odds of reporting child-related distractions compared with drivers whose children are restrained properly.
The study findings are being presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Washington, D.C. this week.