A new study from an Australian university suggests that children in the car are 12 times more distracting to a driver than talking on a mobile phone while at the wheel.
Researchers from the Monash University Accident Research Centre in Victoria, Australia found the average parent takes their eyes off the road for three minutes and 22 seconds during a 16-minute trip.
The researchers used cars fitted with a discrete recording system which monitored the driving behaviour of 12 families over three weeks. The families had an average of two children, between 1-8 years of age.
The study analysed 92 trips for potential activities that distracted the driver or competed for their attention while driving, including looking away from the road for more than two seconds while the vehicle was in motion.
In the study, drivers were observed engaging in potentially distracting activities in 90 of the 92 trips. The most frequent types of distractions included turning to look at the child in the rear seat or watching the rear-view mirror (76.4%), engaging in conversation with the child (16%), assisting the child (7%) and playing with the child (1%).
The study also found that the presence of a front seat passenger did not significantly affect the way in which drivers engaged in potentially distracting child occupant-related activities, both in terms of frequency and duration.
Associate Professor Judith Charlton said that while the risks of distraction during driving are becoming increasingly well known, drivers often don’t consider their own children to be a distraction.
Associate Professor Charlton said: “Previous research has shown that, compared with driving alone, dialling a mobile phone while driving is associated with 2.8 times the crash risk, and talking or listening while driving is associated with 1.3 times the crash risk. One major and previously unrecognised distraction is kids in the backseat.”
The researchers suggested that one area that may assist in reducing driver distraction is correct restraint of children in their car seats. They found children were in the incorrect position for more than 70% of the journey time.