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Are Your Kids Driving You to Distraction?

Keep Calm SignA study by the Monash University Accident Research Centre in Western Australia has found that children are 12 times more distracting to a driver than talking on a mobile phone.

This will come as no surprise to any parent who has endured a journey with energetic young children as passengers; however, the more astonishing statistic is that parents in the study took their eyes off the road for an average of three minutes and 22 seconds during a 16 minute trip.

Top ways your children get your attention in the car

How do they do it?  Their tactics for getting our attention vary; some are the preserve of babies and toddlers whilst others require a level of strategy known only to an eight year-old. One thing they all have in common, though: they drive us to distraction!

They need a snack

You may have fed your child a three-course feast right before leaving the house, but the moment you turn out of your driveway, you can guarantee they’ll be hungry or thirsty again. Seasoned parents don’t travel anywhere without a supply of easy-access snacks and drinks. 

Our tip: Kids with the munchies are rarely quiet about it. If you’re setting off on a long journey, go prepared.

Spilled food & drinks

Small girl with chocolateThe last point leads neatly to this inevitable conclusion: odds are high that even children with years of experience feeding themselves will drop their sandwich or spill their drink the moment you can’t pick it up again for them. Body-painting with any available sticky food substance is also a favourite past-time. 

The distractions for the driver are numerous here. Firstly there’s stress brought about by your child's reaction. Then there’s the temptation to grope around blindly behind you to locate the missing item. You'll be worrying about stains on the car upholstery. And lastly there’s the very real concern that your child may attempt to get out of their car seat to pick up the item themselves.

Tip 1: If your child does attempt to get out of their child seat and they don’t respond to your instructions not to, pull over as soon as you safely can to sort the situation out.
Tip 2: Pack two of everything in the snack department. 
Tip 3: Buy shares in a leading wet-wipe manufacturer and place mountainous quantities within reach of...well, everything really. 

Needing the bathroom

Yes, this is another of those inescapable truths – children will need to go to the bathroom, and they’ll usually announce this essential requirement about 60 seconds after you’ve turned onto the motorway, some 50 miles or so before the next services.

Distractions here are increasingly urgent cries of distress and an awful lot of squirming and wriggling. You may find yourself frantically scrabbling for a semi-absorbent object that can be shoved hastily under your child if the worst should happen.

Our tip: Don’t believe their assurances that they don’t need the bathroom before getting in the car. And don’t believe them when they say they’ve already been – they want to get on the road as quickly as possible. After all, that’s when the snacks come out!


Two brothers fightingWhen there are two children in the back seat they will fight over the arm-rest in the middle. When there are three, they’ll fight over anything. Typical triggers for fisticuffs include: elbow-poking, leg-nudging and leaning; not sharing a blanket equally; accusations of food/drink/toy theft; cheating at “I Spy”; taking up too much room. We could go on…

Our tip: You can’t separate them so try to distract them with music, visual games or audio books through the car’s sound system. The Wheels on the Bus is torture to many parents, but marginally less distracting than a re-enactment of Rocky behind you.


Tantrums are difficult to deal with at any time, but never more so than when you’re behind the wheel of a car and limited in your options. Toddlers hold the prize for this behaviour, and can out-scream pretty much any other age group. Causes? Anything from a dropped toy to wearing the wrong colour t-shirt.

Our tip: Experience may teach you to tune out the worst of a toddler tantrum, but if you aren’t able to do this effectively, find somewhere safe to pull over, deal with the situation and take a few minutes for everyone to relax before getting on your way again.

Prolonged crying

We haven’t put this in the same league as tantrums, because it seems unfair to younger babies who might actually have a genuine, albeit non-communicable reason for a prolonged crying jag. However, it’s just as stressful to the driver, who can do very little to soothe the baby or even investigate the problem until they can find a good stopping place.

As with many of these situations, odds are good that they’ll occur when there’s the least chance of being able to pull over.

On a more serious note, these distractions do increase the chance of you having an accident. While there's sometimes very little to prevent a child-related distraction from occurring, and even less you can do to respond to the situation immediately, do make sure your child’s car seat is correctly fitted and they are properly strapped in to reduce the consequences if the worst should happen. 

Girl Motor understands family life. Contact us for a quote next time your car insurance is due for renewal.

Call *0344 493 7743 or go online.

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