Children's Lives At Risk Because Parents Drive Distracted
May 6, 2013

Children’s Lives At Risk Because Parents Drive Distracted

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

According to a new survey, parents are putting their children at risk in cars because they are driving distracted.

University of Michigan researchers studied over 600 parents to see what distractions they face when they are driving with their children in the car. They presented their findings at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting.

"Lots of attention has been given to distracted teen drivers. However, our results indicate parents are frequently distracted while driving their one- to 12-year-old children, and these distracted drivers were more likely to have been in a crash," said lead author Michelle L. Macy, MD, MS, FAAP, clinical lecturer in the Departments of Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics at University of Michigan and C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.

Parents were surveyed while their children were being treated at one of two Michigan emergency rooms for any reason. They were asked how often they engaged in distracting behaviors while driving with their child, which could have included talking on the phone, texting, surfing the Internet, grooming, eating, feeding their children, getting directions from a GPS or changing a CD or DVD. Participants were also asked whether they used a seat belt and what type of restraint their child uses.

According to the survey, 90 percent of drivers reported engaging in at least one technology-based distraction while driving their child in the past month. Drivers who reported engaging in distracting behaviors were more likely to report having ever been in a crash.

Researchers also found that parents were less distracted if their children were restrained in an age-appropriate restraint based on Michigan law.

"Our research has identified some high-impact areas to improve child passenger safety," Dr. Macy said in a statement. "Distracted driving while children are in the car is common, and many children are not using the right safety seat for their size."

Parents who said they wore a seat belt while driving were also more likely to report their child always uses the age-appropriate restraint. Findings also showed that parents of minority race or ethnicity were significantly less likely to report their child uses the age-appropriate restraint compared to white parents.

"It is concerning that, in our study population, race is playing such a prominent role in the use of car seats. The underlying reasons are not fully explained by differences in education or income," Dr. Macy said. "The impact of parental motivation to use car seats also needs to be better understood."

Parents may soon get a little help from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on driving while distracted. NHTSA recently released final guidelines for automakers to follow in order to limit distracted driving due to electronic devices.

“These guidelines recognize that today´s drivers appreciate technology, while providing automakers with a way to balance the innovation consumers want with the safety we all need. Combined with good laws, good enforcement and good education, these guidelines can save lives," said US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.