Driven to distraction?

The use of mobile phones in cars has divided opinion for years, and was recently brought back into the headlines by the road safety charity Brake, which suggested a ban even on the use of hands-free devices while driving. It was a suggestion that sparked a fierce debate about the dangers of in-car distractions and whether talking on a hands-free set is any more dangerous than talking to a front-seat passenger or sorting out the kids sitting in the back. As a Dad, and as a Dad who talks to other parents, I would suggest that sorting out the kids is far more distracting than talking on a hands-free device. I was once so distracted by the kids making a fuss in the car I was pulled over by an unmarked police car and breathalysed.


But we can’t ignore cold, hard facts: research shows that, when using a hands-free kit, a driver’s reaction time is 50% slower than if they were not on the hands-free and a staggering 30% slower than if they were driving with a blood alcohol level of 80mg per 100ml of blood, the current UK limit. Sobering stuff – but I’m still not convinced it’s more distracting than having kids in the car. So I was intrigued to hear the findings of a study carried out in Australia that looked into how often kids cause us to take our eyes off the road.

Candid camera

In a study that is the first of its kind anywhere in the world, researchers at Melbourne’s Monash University fitted the cars of 12 families with a small camera that monitored driving behaviour over a 12-week period, paying particular attention to anything that distracted the driver. And the findings served to highlight that having kids in the back seat is a major and previously unrecognised distraction. It was found that drivers were distracted in 90 of the 92 journeys observed as part of the study, with over three quarters (76%) of drivers turning to look at a child in the rear seat or watching them in the rear view mirror, and more than one in 10 (16%) were seen to be engaging in conversation with the child. The study also found parents take their eyes off the road an average of three minutes and 22 seconds during a 16-minute drive and – this is the big one – having children in the back is 12 times more distracting to a driver than talking on a mobile phone while at the wheel. What’s more, it was found that the presence of a passenger in the front seat did not significantly affect the way or the number of times drivers dealt with the distraction of having children in the back of the car – so maybe the lesson here is to let the passenger deal with the kids and let the driver deal with the driving. For tips on how to keep the kids occupied, and quiet, while in the car, read Mel Wright’s article Entertaining the kids on long journeys. And here’s what kids really think of Mum and Dad’s driving…

[embed width="660" height="415"][/embed]

Did you enjoy that? Why not share this article