(NEW YORK) — People have been caught doing all sorts of things that distract them behind the wheel — from eating an ice cream cone to talking on a cell phone to driving drunk — but one of the worst distractions might be something parents do every day: driving with kids in the backseat of the car.
In a first-of-its-kind study, Australian researchers found that children are 12 times more distracting to the driver than talking on a cell phone while at the wheel. According to their findings, the average parent takes their eyes off the road for a staggering three minutes and 22 seconds during a 16-minute trip.
When kids are in the car, parents are breaking up fights between squabbling siblings and calming fussy babies. By the way, those babies are eight times more distracting to the driver than adult passengers, according to AAA.
So ABC’s Paula Faris put herself to the test. A mother of two, Faris considers herself a safe driver, but she didn’t realize the danger she was subjecting her children to until she mounted GoPro cameras to her van to capture a typical Saturday morning.
Charlie Klauer, a transportation engineer for Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute and a distracted-driving expert, along with her team analyze dangerous driving habits, what they call “eyes-off-the-road” moments. They agreed to evaluate the footage of both Faris’ driving and her husband’s driving with their kids.
In one instance, Klauer pointed out that Faris was driving 55 to 60 miles per hour on the highway and her “eyes-off-the-road” time to glance at the kids was four seconds. In another, Klauer noted that Faris was distracted when one of her kids handed her his empty snack wrapper. And in another, Faris reached for her cell phone, taking her eyes off the road for six seconds.
“We’ve done some analysis looking at text messages, for example,” Klauer said. “A text message typically takes seven to eight, nine seconds to do and a driver’s eyes are off the forward roadway at least half the time, if not more than that.”
Faris had also adjusted the rearview mirror so she could keep an eye on her kids, and in another moment she was adjusting the DVD player.
Fathers are supposed to be the worst offenders. According to the Australian study, children distract the men more and for longer periods of time.
But in this family’s case, Klauer only found one driving issue with Faris’ husband.
“The rearview mirror is also, I believe, positioned to look at the children,” she said.
It can be stressful, but there are solutions. Experts say the first thing to do is set up car rules so your kids know what to expect. If they drop something, parents need to make sure the child passengers know the driver cannot pick it up until the car stops.
If you are tempted to take a phone call, which puts the kids in even more danger, consider using an app like Zoom Safer. It blocks incoming calls and text messages by sending an automated response saying you are driving and will answer when you can.
And if you can’t feed the kids before you leave, keep a snack bag close by — one of the few things Faris did right when she was behind the wheel.
Out of 10, Klauer said she would rate Faris’ safety skills at a “5 to 6.” A failing grade.
“The mirror is kind of bad,” she said.
Faris will have to work on that.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio