Nearly half of parents report talking on their smartphones while driving with children as young as 4-years-old in the car, a new study suggests, and one in three admit to reading texts and social media. Moms and dads who use their phones in the car are also more likely to drive without a seatbelt, or under the influence.
These alarming findings, published last week in the journal Pediatrics, highlight a growing public health crisis. “Distracted driving from cell phone use is associated with increased crash risk,” study coauthor Catherine McDonald of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia told Fatherly. “This study provides further evidence that parents are driving distracted while their young children are in the car.”
The leading cause of death of children in the U.S. over the age of one year is accidental injury and motor vehicle injuries are among the leading causes of these fatal accidents. Roughly 11 children died every week as a result of motor vehicle accidents between 2010 and 2014—about 2,885 children total. Among the general population, distracted driving (largely due to cellphone use) was implicated in 3,450 deaths in 2016 alone.
This new study is among the first to identify a link between parental phone habits and other high-risk driving behaviors, just as driving while intoxicated or failing to wear a seatbelt. For the study, researchers administered online surveys to 760 parents or routine caregivers across 47 states, all of whom had driven children between the ages of 4 and 10 at least six times over the previous three months. Participants were asked about their driving habits during this time, including whether or not they used a car seat correctly, whether they wore a seatbelt while driving, and whether they used their phone while operating the vehicle.
More than half—52.2 percent—of parents reported talking while on a hands-free phone while driving, whereas 47 percent did so on a hand-held one. Likewise, the survey indicated that 33.7 percent of parents read text messages while driving; 26.7 percent dared to actually send texts. A troubling 13.7 percent used social media while they were driving with their children. (Hopefully, they didn’t get any likes).
McDonald and her team then looked at how phone use related to other risks like incorrect use of child restraint systems and driving under the influence of alcohol, with or without children in the car. Researchers noted that parents who had a history of drinking and driving were more likely to participate in all types of phone use while driving with children. And if parents had a history of not wearing seatbelts themselves, they were more likely to drive distracted. “Risky behaviors often do not exist in isolation,” McDonald says.
Given that the qualitative data was based on self-reporting, it’s entirely possible the number of parents engaging in distracted driving because of their phones is even higher, McDonald adds. “Parents inherently want their children to be safe and optimally protected, and may not realize that engaging with their cell phones while driving puts everyone in the vehicle – and on the road – at risk,” she says.
“We hope these findings bring additional awareness to the issue of distracted driving.”