Car Journeys are good for Talking but Don’t Get Distracted

Our lives seem to be getting busier and it can leave little time for families to talk. But could family discussions in the car be too distracting for the driver? While it’s always good to talk, parents need to be keeping their eyes and their mind on the road. 

Talking on the Go 

Communicating with teenagers can sometimes be extra challenging. After all, parents must compete with things like school, college, work, friends, phones and gadgets. But Psychology Today reports that many parents say they find it helpful to use the time in the car to talk. They find this to be a much more effective way to communicate with their teenagers than a discussion at home. When you are in the car you have a captive audience, but it doesn’t feel threatening or intimidating. 

In the car, your child is likely to be less distracted, so hopefully you can engage their attention better. It’s important to use the time to ask questions, not lecture, and be open to what they say. You may want to use the opportunity to talk, but it’s not the place to get into an argument. 

Dangers of Distracted Driving 

However, there are risks associated with chatting to the kids in the car. A study by the Monash University Accident Research Center found children can be a bigger driving distraction then cell phones. In fact, 12 times more distracting. 

Researchers installed cameras in the cars of 12 families over a 3-week period. They discovered that talking on the phone only attributed to 1% of distractions. However, distractions caused by children resulted in 12% of all distractions. During a 16-minute journey, parents driving with children spent 3 minutes and 22 seconds not looking at the road. 

Types of Distraction 

The most common types of distraction were drivers turning around to speak to their children or looking at them in the rear-view mirror. The study also found that parents chatted to their child 16% of the time and spent 7% of the time reaching into the back seat to give them something. 

From the 92 trips used in the study, distracted driving took place in 90 of the cases. More surprisingly, even having someone in the front passenger seat made no difference to the driver’s distraction level. 

How to Drive Safely with Kids in the Car 

Distractions can be caused by crying or arguing between children or something else that needs attention. The child may want a drink or snack or they’ve dropped something. But as the driver, you need to resist any urge to reach back or take your eyes off the road. An accident can happen in just a second. However, there are some simple things you can do to minimize distractions and minimize danger. 

Set Some Rules 

Teach your children from an early age about car safety. Explain to them that to keep everyone safe, drivers must always pay attention to the road. It’s important that they understand as young as possible that you cannot help them because you are driving and they will have to wait. Whether they’ve dropped something, need a tissue, or just want your attention, they must wait until you’ve either pulled over or got to your destination. If they know you can’t and won’t react, then hopefully they won’t expect it. This may sometimes mean that you will end up listening to cries and a tantrum, but they are restrained in their seat and cannot hurt themselves so just try to ignore what’s happening. 


Before you set off on your journey, check you have items that your kids may need within reach. If traveling with babies, then give them something to eat before you leave or plan a snack stop. Eating in the car isn’t always safe as babies and young children could choke and you won’t be able to help. For older children, put their drinks, snacks, books, and toys within easy reach. 

Distracting the Kids 

If your children get bored in the back of the car, then to avoid any whining, try distracting them with songs or playing a game that gets them looking outside the car. Get them to spot traffic lights, buses, garbage trucks or fire trucks. Who’s the first to spot a green car? 

If you are going on a long journey, pack some kids’ magazines, books or audio books if they like listening to them. If you will be driving when it’s dark, then think about how the kids will read in the back. These days, street lighting is pretty bright, but if you don’t want to rely on that and find rear passenger lights too distracting, pack a torch. Make sure the kids know they must use it sensibly or it will just become another distraction for you. 

Pull Over Somewhere Safe 

If you find that the crying or arguing from the back seat is too distracting, then pull over somewhere safe, like a gas station. Resist the temptation to try to deal with these situations while driving. And never pull over where your car could get hit by passing vehicles; it’s just not worth the risk. 

From freelance writer Jenny Holt, who is a mother of two. She loves nothing more than getting away from it and taking her pet Labrador Bruce for long walks, something she can do a lot more now she’s left the corporate world behind.

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