Everyone knows, but few truly appreciate, how chaotic the life of a new mother becomes. The phrases of “multi-tasking” and “divided loyalties” take on whole new meaning as parents struggle to assimilate and prioritize the expected and unexpected daily occurrences, in the life of their family. A recent study proves that these events can carry over to distracted driving for the life of a new mother, or parent, culminating into dangerous driving behavior, and increased accident risks. The study, polling 2,396 mothers with children under the age of two, produced some surprising–and some not so surprising results.
The survey, conducted by Safe Kids Worldwide and the American Baby Magazine shows that new mothers may engage in some of the same dangerous driving behaviors as teens when on the highway, and may experience similar crash rates as a consequence.
The study found that new mothers engage in risky cell phone behavior, on par with teens; do not get enough sleep and often drive drowsy, are tempted to speed to make time commitments, and experience an increased accident rate due to the number of distractions they face.
Any yet, self-perceived attitudes of driving behaviors mirror those of the general public; individually feeling that they are good drivers; with 63% of new mothers surveyed reporting that they are more cautious drivers post-baby.
As quoted in a USA Today article by Larry Copeland, “Everyone wants to think they’re a good driver, especially when they’re a mom,” says Laura Kalehoff, executive editor of American Baby. ‘You pick out the safest car seat, the safest crib, and you want to feel like you’re making the right choices. [These mothers] thought they were being better drivers, while their behavior showed otherwise.’
Nearly 10% of the surveyed mothers, who drove an average of 150 miles a week, had been in a crash while driving with their babies — a crash rate nearly three times higher than that of the general public and one that closes in on the crash rate of teen drivers.” 75% of mothers report becoming more flustered in their daily lives since having children, and approximately two-thirds admit to a lack of task-specific focus. This is no surprise after parenthood.
According to a Parents article published by Shaun Dreisbach from American Baby, “That lack of focus carries over to the driver’s seat. ‘It’s become part of our culture to not just drive, but to do 20 other things,’ says Kate Carr, President and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide. Now while we’re checking email and applying lip gloss, we’ve got an adorable-but-needy baby in the back seat. In fact, 98 percent of parents driving with a child report being preoccupied for nearly a third of the time they’re on the road, Australian research shows. The result, as you can probably guess, is not good: On average, distracted driving causes 8,000 crashes a day, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates.”
As parents, we’ve been there. We empathize. We’ve seen tantrums, motion sickness, fussiness, projectiles, and sibling disputes. It would be comical, were it not so potentially dangerous. We know we will face these challenges, however, we shouldn’t add to them by engaging in distracted driving behavior ourselves by using cell phones to talk, text, or check email while en route.
Most surprisingly, of the participants surveyed, 78% acknowledged speaking on the cellphone and 26% admitted to the habit of checking email or texting while driving with their child in the back seat. While the temptation to multi-task may be overwhelming, and we might actually feel productive as a result, it simply isn’t worth the risk. Individuals who text when behind the wheel, for example, are 23 times more likely to have an automobile accident according to NHTSA statistics. In fact, texting is illegal in 39 states, including Maine.
As a rule, we take exceptional measures to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our children; however, we need to recognize that multitasking has no place behind the wheel. We should also recognize when other circumstances affect our performance behind the wheel such as lack of drowsiness, or feeling rushed.
Not surprisingly, mother’s surveyed in the study were found to be sleep deprived, however it is surprising to note that the sleep average was and hour and a half less than that of commercial truck drivers, making for potentially dangerous performance while driving. We know that fatigued drivers are at greater risk of accidents due to slowed reaction times and lack of focus. And yet, over one third of the mother’s queried, reported driving despite fatigue.
Additionally, nearly 55% of those surveyed admitted to exceeding the speed limit during travel in order to arrive at their destination on time, or to enable them to get to their baby more quickly. Another statistic that mirrors teen driving habits.
Altering some behaviors may be more difficult than others. For example resisting the urge to turn around to make back seat adjustments for your child when they are under duress; avoiding travel while too tired, or resisting the urge to speed when late. Be aware of the risks and make necessary adjustments, as these are pressures you will most certainly feel. However, one recommended adjustment should require no thought at all. Put down the cell phone with your precious cargo on board. This is the single-most effective change you can make, aside from proper car seat installation.
Thankfully, new mothers, unlike teenagers, are much more receptive to acknowledging and altering unsafe practices when behind the wheel. We know that nothing is more distracting than a screaming child in the back seat. We also sincerely respect and appreciate the daily challenges that new mothers, and parents face. The attorneys at Briggs & Wholey hope that the information found within this study; highlighting the dangers of multitasking for new mothers while driving, will help ensure safe driving habits when behind the wheel with a child on board, and fortify parents for the difficult decisions they will most certainly face while in transit.
Photo Credit: anitapeppers, Morguefile