In the previous three months, about half of parents talked on a cell phone while driving with their kids in the car, research finds. The researchers also report that one in three read text messages, and one in seven used social media.
The study also found a correlation between cell phone use while children were in the car and other risky driving behaviors, such as not wearing a seat belt and driving under the influence of alcohol whether or not children were present in the car.
“…risky driving behaviors rarely occur in isolation…”
Crash fatalities and injuries resulting from distracted driving constitute a public health crisis in the US, resulting in about one in four motor vehicle crashes. Previous research suggests that causes of distracted driving by parents and caregivers include talking on hand-held or hands-free cell phones or using phones to text, email, or access the internet.
Researchers wanted to identify specific factors associated with cell phone-related distracted driving in parents and caregivers of children between the ages of 4 and 10.
“Technology has become increasingly intertwined with our daily lives,” says lead author Catherine McDonald, a senior fellow with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Center for Injury Research and Prevention and an assistant professor of nursing at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing.
“The results from this research reinforce that risky driving behaviors rarely occur in isolation, and lay the groundwork for interventions and education specifically aimed at parents who drive with young children in their cars.”
Calling, texting, posting online
The study, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, involved an online sample of 760 adults from 47 US states. The respondents had to be at least 18 years old, a parent or routine caregiver of a child between the ages of 4 and 10, and had driven their oldest child between those ages at least six times in the preceding three months.
The research finds a direct correlation between a history of driving under the influence and increased likelihood of all types of cell phone use while driving with kids in the car.
In the preceding three months, 52.2 percent of parents had talked on a hands-free phone while driving with a young child in the car, while 47 percent had done so with a hand-held phone. The study also found that 33.7 percent of parents read text messages while 26.7 percent sent text messages while driving with children. Social media also contributed to distracted driving, with 13.7 percent of respondents reporting using social media while driving with children.
The study also looked at child restraint system (CRS) use for children in the same age group. The study found that 14.5 percent of parents did not consistently use their typical CRS when driving with their children. Drivers who did not consistently use their typical CRS were more likely to engage in cell phone use while driving.
Impaired driving in the past
Finally, the study looked at parent and caregiver risky behavior associated with driving, including not wearing a seat belt as a driver and driving under the influence of alcohol, whether or not their children were in the car. The researchers saw a direct correlation between a history of driving under the influence and increased likelihood of all types of cell phone use while driving with children in the car.
All cell phone-related distracted driving behaviors other than talking on a hands-free phone increased if a person did not always wear their seat belt while driving with children.
McDonald says that future studies are needed to understand if unsafe distracted driving behaviors by parents influences their children as they become young drivers in the future.
The National Science Foundation supported the work.