A mom and toddler in a car

Don’t let your children drive you to distraction

Human error contributes to 8 out of every 10 road accidents in South Africa. Among these errors, distracted driving emerges as a leading cause, posing significant risks to drivers, passengers and other road users.

Wynand van Vuuren, client experience partner at King Price Insurance, says a leading cause of distracted driving is tending to the needs of your small children. “As parents, the safety of our children is paramount. However, despite our best intentions, having small children in the car can significantly increase the risk of distracted driving.”

Children are known to be 12 times more distracting to drivers than talking on a cellphone. And, during an average 16-minute car trip, parents are distracted by their children for over 20% of the time – underscoring the challenges faced by moms, in particular, who may also be juggling sleepless nights and the demands of parenting. In fact, 10% of new moms have had an accident while driving with their babies. 

We all know that using our phones while driving is not only illegal but also incredibly distracting. A Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study shows that texting while driving increases the likelihood of an accident by 23 times, while simply dialling a number makes drivers six times more prone to having an accident. Also, the reaction times of texting drivers are slower (35%) than that of drunk drivers (12%), and even reading a WhatsApp message can lead to disaster. It takes five seconds to read an average message and, if you’re driving at 90km/h, that’s the equivalent of driving the length of a rugby field with your eyes closed.

But, unlike a text message, a child’s needs can’t always be ignored. Given every parent’s natural urge to care for their children, it’s easy to understand how parents may focus their eyes and attention on the back seat instead of the road.

Van Vuuren offers the following tips for driving with small children in the car:

  • Plan ahead – Ensure everything your child may need is easily accessible and within reach to minimise the need to divert your attention from the road.
  • Put their needs on hold – If possible, wait until you reach your destination to address your child’s needs, prioritising safety over immediate gratification.
  • Pull over – Only pull over when absolutely necessary and in a safe location, such as a rest stop or parking lot, to avoid unnecessary risks.
  • Educate your children on car safety – Teach your children about the importance of behaving in the car, to ensure the safety of everyone on board.
  • Keep your eyes on the road – Set a good example for your children by avoiding distractions and focusing on safe driving habits.

While it’s illegal to use your phone while driving, and it’s dangerous to take your eyes and concentration off the road for any reason, it’s sometimes hard to prove that distracted driving is the cause of an accident. From an insurance point of view, distracted driving may not necessarily lead to a claim for accident damage being rejected.

However, says Van Vuuren, this doesn’t mean you should risk it. “South Africa’s roads are already dangerous, with potholes, traffic lights being out due to loadshedding, and pedestrians crossing. If you add distractions to the mix, you’re simply creating an unbearable level of risk – for you, your passengers and children, and other road users.”

Image credit: Freepik

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