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Kids Distract Drivers, Too

By Sierra Black |

3926147797_b5f8aa369fThis week, Oprah had a moving op-ed piece in the New York Times about the danger of driving while using a cell phone. Whether you’re holding it or using a headset, talking or texting, there’s mounting evidence that using your phone in your car is just about as dangerous as driving drunk.

Most of us would never dream of getting behind the wheel after a few martinis, but we blithely pick up our phones while driving.

A few weeks ago, a friend posted about this problem to her blog. I was shocked by the number of parents who weighed in to say what I have always felt: my kids distract me, too.

Trying to talk to my kid in the backseat feels dangerous to me for the same reason talking on the phone does. I’m moving the focus of my attention away from the road in front of me. My eyes are still facing the street, and my hands are on the wheel. But my brain is somewhere else.

It’s also a problem because kids, at least young ones, are clueless about what’s happening on the road ahead. If my husband and I are talking in the front seat and a bike swerves in front of us, we both react. the person at the other end of a phone call can’t, because he didn’t see what you saw.

Similarly, my kid in the backseat has no clue about traffic patterns or dangers, and is not going to let up on her incessant game of 20 questions while I navigate some sticky traffic.

There’s been a lot of resistance to the notion that cell phones cause dangerous distractions in my circle of otherwise educated, progressive friends. No one wants to give up their chatting while driving habit.

It’s easy for me to believe the science on this one, though, because talking on the phone is so much like talking to the kids. I know they’re both distracting for me. And while I’m not a saint in this regard, I do have a firm “No Talking To Mommy” rule when I’m driving, as well as a rock-solid “no texting while driving” rule and “no phone calls while driving” rule. That last one is more like a guideline, really.

Have you given up using a cell phone while driving yet? What would it take to change your habits? Do you find your kids as distracting as your phone, or do they not push your buttons?

Photo: Jason Weaver

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About Sierra Black


Sierra Black

Sierra Black lives, writes and raises her kids in the Boston area. She loves irreverence, hates housework and wants to be a writer and mom when she grows up. Read bio and latest posts → Read Sierra's latest posts →

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14 thoughts on “Kids Distract Drivers, Too

  1. GtothemfckinP says:

    In many places, talking on the phone while driving (w/o an earpiece) is illegal…as it should be. Texting while driving? With a kid in the car? That’s pretty damn irresponsible! I tell my preschooler flat out I can’t do A, B, or C because I have to focus on driving, when she asks for stuff. Or I tell her I have to wait for red light or til we stop. She usually accepts it. Except early on, when I told her I have to focus on driving so I don’t crash, she said, “crash mommy, crash!!!” like it was one of her toy trains or something. Funny. I don’t know what people with multiple, raging kids do. This is why I can’t imagine having a gaggle of them.

  2. Roy says:

    Just give your kid your smartphone to play with. Two problems solved.

  3. Laure68 says:

    I have never seen stats on accidents caused by people being distracted by their kids. One thing that helps us these days is the car seat. When I was a kid we didn’t even use seat belts, and kids just moved around the car. I can’t imagine how distracting that must have been for parents.

    As an observational note, when I see cars doing stupid things (running stop signs/lights, swerving, etc.) and I look in the car it is almost always because the person is on the phone. I don’t see this kind of erratic behavior when people have their kids with them. Again, just an observation, I’d like to see what the stats are.

  4. Laure68 says:

    GP – where we live it is illegal to drive while talking on the phone (wo earpiece), but people still do it. Also, driving with an earpiece is just as distracting.

  5. Jenny says:

    Children can be taught not to talk to the driver. It might take some work, but it can happen. On the flip side, apparently adults can’t be taught not to talk on the phone when driving.

  6. GtothemfckinP says:

    I agree that driving with an earpiece is just as distracting. I was just pointing out that it is illegal. I think most people are not nearly talented enough to be driving and talking at the same time. Like you, whenever I see stupid shit happening, they’re on the damn phone.

  7. PlumbLucky says:

    Its illegal where I live as well, but a secondary offense, I believe (meaning you can be cited if you’ve already been pulled over for driving like a flaming alternate word for a donkey, but they can’t just pull you over for being on the phone).

    Add to stupid stuff? Seems like every time I see the aforementioned “stupid stuff” its because of a phone and “fill in the blank with something else that common sense says is stupid to do while driving”.
    I can actually say though that I’ve been rear ended by a woman who was turned around screaming at/breaking up a fight/something her kids. The only benefit to that was she was driving a little econo-crap-box (circa mid 80s model) and she nailed the hitch on my pickup. No damage to my vehicle. Lots to hers, but lots of witnesses as well.

  8. Gin says:

    My children can be *very* distracting in the car. We usually travel in a full-sized SUV, so discussions are difficult–a lot of, “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you. What was that?” Incredibly frustrating. I usually just remind them it needs to be quiet so I can concentrate, and they settle down. I never talk on the phone when I am driving. I can place a call when I am parked, and for incoming calls, I have voicemail.

  9. ChiLaura says:

    Well said, Jenny.

  10. [...] Some conscientious moms have gone even further and claim that driving with children in the car can be distracting as well. Responding to your kids twenty questions, fishing around over your shoulder for a lost sippy cup, trying to keep a pacifier in your baby’s crying mouth, is all par for the course when chauffeuring around young children. Your eyes may be on the road, but your brain is definitely elsewhere. We’re not quite sure how to get around this issue, but at least you’re forewarned of the dangers involved. [...]

  11. Rosana says:

    My kids are more distracting. Especially because both of them hated the car seat when they were first born.

  12. NY Phoenix says:

    This is why I taught my kids (ages 12 and 10) how to work my phone. ANYONE that would be calling with a possible emergency has their own specialized ringtone so I can know who’s calling without having to look and tell whichever kid is designated “communications” (they like Star Trek) to either answer it or let it go to voice mail. They also know how to use my phone for texting and will reply to incoming texts with “mom is driving and will talk to you later.”

  13. Laurentino says:

    Thanks for an idea, you skarped at thought from a angle Ihadn’t given thoguht to yet. Now lets see if I can do somethingwith it.

  14. I so agree with you – I have long thought that my small people are about the most distracting things I deal with while driving. (I don’t text and drive either) There is always a need, a wish, a want – food, the dvd player, a change of the radio station, an argument – it is hard to do, but I always remind them I must focus.

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