Frightening number of parents text, check social media while driving — With kids in tow

Study shows a third of parents read texts while simultaneously trying to keep eyes on road, while one in seven admit to checking social media when driving children

PHILADELPHIA — Distracted driving causes about one in four traffic-related deaths and injuries. A statistic like that should make people, particularly parents, want to put that cellphone away while driving. But do they?

You might be surprised by results of a recent study. A startling number of parents still somehow can’t resist the dangerous urge to fiddle with their phones while behind the wheel.

A team of researchers from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (Penn Nursing) found that about half of parents and caregivers are guilty of talking on cellphones when transporting children. About one-third admit to reading text messages, while one in seven succumbs to the lure of social media while kids ride in the backseat.

“Technology has become increasingly intertwined with our daily lives,” says lead author Catherine McDonald, a senior fellow with CHOP’s Center for Injury Research and Prevention and a professor of nursing at Penn Nursing, in a release. “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.”

The team used an online survey of 760 adults from 47 states to determine what most influences parents or caregivers to allow themselves to be distracted by cell phones while driving with children on board. Participants were 18 or older, either a parent or routine caregiver, and had to have transported a child between 4 and 10 years of age at least six times in the previous three months.

Statistics are telling. In the past three months, 52.2 percent talked on a hands-free phone while driving with a young child in tow, while 47 percent talked with one hand on the wheel and the other occupied with a phone. About a third (33.7 percent) read text messages while simultaneously viewing the road, and more than a fourth (26.7 percent) took it a step further by sending texts while driving. Social media distracted 13.7 percent of parents and caregivers while children rode in the car.

Researchers found that people willing to take a chance with their phone while driving are also more likely to commit other risky driving behaviors, such as driving under the influence or not fastening their own seat belt, whether or not children are in the car. Parents and caregivers who neglected to use child restraint systems consistently (14.5 percent of respondents) were also more likely to allow cellphone distractions while driving.

“When clinicians are discussing child passenger safety with families, they can use the opportunity to ask and educate about parental driving behaviors such as seat belt use and cell phone use while driving,” McDonald says. “This type of education is especially pivotal today, as in-vehicle technology is rapidly changing and there is increased–and seemingly constant–reliability on cell phones. However, it is also important to note that even parents who did not engage in risky behaviors, such as not wearing a seat belt as a driver or driving under the influence of alcohol, still used their cell phones while driving.”

Researchers are concerned about the repercussions of distracted driving. Studies are needed, they say, to find out how exposure to distracted driving at a young age plays out in the next generation of young drivers.

The study’s findings were published July 12, 2018 in the Journal of Pediatrics.