Driven to distraction
Brian Farrell of the RSA on why distracted driving is becoming a serious danger on our roads
The two biggest distractions for drivers in Ireland are mobile devices and kids. But did you know that child distraction could be the more lethal? According to researchers at Monash University in Australia, they are 12 times more distracting to a driver than talking on a mobile.
The most common types of distractions that children cause include the driver turning to look at the child or watching the goings on in the back seat in the rear-view mirror, engaging in conversation with the child, leaning into the back to help or pacify the child and even playing with the child.
The study found that, on average, a parent takes their eyes off the road for three minutes and 22 seconds during a 16-minute trip.
When it comes to children in the car, parents are resigned to the distraction they cause and sceptical of finding a permanent solution. There is definitely a need to educate parents about the risks of focusing on their children rather than the road.
We in the Road Safety Authority undertook our own research to understand what was going on in the car with parents and young children.
Our study found that parents are conflicted. They are trying to be good drivers and good parents at the same time. They are torn between looking after the child, and they struggle to put the child's more immediate needs behind the task of safely driving the car.
The study demonstrated that parents have the mentality that 'a good parent wouldn't ignore their kid screaming in the back seat without at least trying to intervene'. Yet the very act of attempting to attend to their children's needs makes them bad drivers and puts their children in mortal danger.
Parents are busier than most and see their car as an extension of the home and a necessary place to multi-task. For parents, driving with children can be an experience filled with anxiety, guilt, frustration and irritation.
They're constantly being told how to be better parents. They never feel that they're doing enough for their kids.
The challenge for us is to educate parents on the risks that children pose as a distraction in the car. We need parents to realise that the most dangerous thing their child does every day is travel as a passenger in the car and that the things going on outside the vehicle need their attention much more than the things inside it. Parents need help. They need guidance and coping strategies.
One solution in reducing driver distraction, according to the Monash University report, is the correct restraint of children in their car seats. We see it regularly at our Check It Fits child car seat service. Think how you would feel on a trip in the car sitting in a seat that's incorrectly fitted, wearing layers of padded clothing and the straps not adjusted correctly so they're cutting into your shoulders? It certainly explains some of the constant crying and trying to get out of the seat behaviour of some children. So the advice is to consider this before you set off on your journey.
The Australian researchers found the children in their study were in the incorrect position for over 70pc of the journey time. four out of five child car seats we examine here in Ireland are fitted incorrectly. Ensuring your child is properly restrained in the correct car seat could eliminate a big cause of distraction while driving for parents.
The best advice we can give is to prepare before you set off:
1Attend to your children's needs before the journey to ensure there is nothing important that they might need while you are driving
2 Secure your children in their car seats before driving off. This should also be checked each time you stop. If you are unsure about whether your car seats are fitted correctly, see www.CheckItFits.ie or visit our Check It Fits roadshow.
3 Once you take off, focus fully on the road. Everything and everyone else can wait.
4If your children start acting up once the car is in motion, keep your attention on the road. If you feel you have to intervene, find a safe place to pull over in order to do so, but under no circumstances on the hard shoulder of a motorway. Otherwise stay focused on the driving.
You have spent every waking moment working hard to protect your children - don't jeopardise this because you didn't make in-car safety your priority. If you want to be a good parent in the car, focus on being a good driver.