Every parent can relate to the challenges of driving with children in the car. Even the best-behaved kids are bound to have moments when they are cranky, irritated, sick or out of sorts. But children in the back seat can distract drivers, which could quickly lead to a tragic outcome.
At Schmidt Kramer, many members of our legal team are also parents, so we understand the natural reaction to look back to deal with a crying or misbehaving child. The reality is that looking behind you, even in the rearview mirror, could quickly put you and your family in harm’s way.
Below, we talk about common child behaviors that distract drivers even more than using a smartphone. We also share some solutions that can help you to travel with children in the car more safely.
Injured in a crash caused by driver negligence? Our experienced car crash lawyers in Harrisburg are ready to help. Call our law offices anytime, night or day to discuss your situation.
What Child Behaviors Distract Parents and Other Drivers?
There are many child behaviors that distract drivers in Pennsylvania, but the most common include:
- Crying, screaming and temper tantrums – Generally, infants and toddlers most often fall into this category, but if parents are newer, it can be daunting to deal with loud screaming while driving. Looking into the back seat is not going to help your child. In fact, it could put them in serious danger. You cannot see what is happening on the road if you are looking in your rearview mirror or the back seat. If your child is crying loudly, he or she is breathing, so focus on the road and find a safe place to stop.
- Children wanting food, drink and bathroom breaks – No matter how young or old they are, your children will let you know when they are hungry. While infants may cry, young children may whine about being hungry until they are fed. Children may repeat a lot of things when they are cranky, bored or just tired of being in the car. For instance, they may say a hundred times or more that they have to go to the bathroom. While this may often be true, sometimes a child may say this for a chance to get out of the car.
- Bored older children wanting entertainment or something to do – If you are a highly organized parent, you may have provided some toys, videos or even personal iPads for older children. However, kids can quickly get bored with one toy or game and want something else to do. Sometimes a battery may die or your child might drop the toy and not be able to pick it up while restrained by his or her seat belt.
- Siblings arguing or fighting – Children fighting over toys, food or just about anything is a fact of life. It happens at the dinner table, on the playground, in their bedrooms and in grocery stores, so it is no surprise that it happens in the car too. However, with older kids, things could escalate enough that one child might hit the other. This behavior can be extremely distracting, and it can also make it harder to hear other approaching vehicles.
- Teens in the car – Younger children are bigger distractions, but sometimes even teens can engage in a heated argument with a parent. Whatever the disagreement is about, discussing it while driving is a bad idea. Emotions can run high with teens and as a parent, you are likely to get emotional too. These types of discussions should be put on hold until you are off the road.
- Doing things for your child – Often this means picking something up off the floor or out of a bag or reaching into the back seat for some other reason. This is another thing parents should never do while driving, because this takes your mind, your eyes and your hands off the task of driving.
Driving While Distracted is Not Just Texting
It is important to remember that as a driver you owe a duty of care to yourself, your children and to others sharing the road. That duty includes taking reasonable steps to prevent harm. Yet if you are looking or reaching into the back seat, trying to pick something up off the floor or yelling at your older children, you are not focused on the road. It takes only a second to swerve, hit an object in the road or drift into another lane of traffic.
Distracted driving is not just about texting, although that is also dangerous. Distracted driving behavior involves anything that takes your mind or your eyes off the road or your hands off the wheel.
How Can You Drive Safely and Deal With Misbehaving Children in the Back Seat?
In short, it is not possible to drive safely while dealing with children in the back seat. However, there are things you can do to prepare children and help them to behave better while you drive.
Safety tips for driving with children in the car include:
Think Ahead, Prepare in Advance
It sounds oversimplified to say that, but driving safely with children in the car takes some work, time and planning. For instance, one trick all parents know is to feed children and have them go to the bathroom right before leaving. Unless you have an adult in the back seat, trying to give children and toddlers snacks in the car could be a bad idea. Older kids might argue over them and younger ones could choke on something. Instead, maybe just have drinks for them and plan regular breaks to allow children to use the bathroom, stretch their legs and have a snack together with you.
Have An Older Child, Babysitter or Adult in the Back Seat
Having a co-pilot in the back seat with infants and toddlers could provide the peace of mind to drive fully focused. It helps to to have someone right there to tend to other immediate needs, such as problems with sharing toys or accessing an app on their tablet.
Talk to Your Children About Car Safety Ahead of Time
Children are never too young to begin learning about car safety. Preparing them ahead of time can really help them understand why you need to pay attention to the road. Explain to them in a simple way what that means. For instance, you could tell them:
- Why it is important to wear and keep their seat belts on.
- That as a driver you need to obey the law and keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel to avoid causing an accident.
- Tell them how playing quietly helps you to be a better and safer driver so that nobody gets hurt.
- Set a timer and tell them you will stop for a snack and bathroom break when it goes off.
Remain Alert and Focused on the Road
One of the hardest things to do as a parent when children are crying or misbehaving in the car is to not get upset or distracted. Yet this is exactly what you need to do to keep your children safe. Even looking in the rearview mirror or shouting at older kids takes your mind and your focus off the road.
Sometimes Pulling Over is the Only Answer
Sometimes, the only thing you can do is find a rest area, restaurant parking lot or some other safe public area to deal with your children. We do not recommend pulling over to a road shoulder, as these can be very dangerous places, especially on a highway with fast-moving traffic. While stopped, you can take the time you need to feed or change an infant, have a bathroom break or deal with other issues.
Until you find a place to pull over, realize it may be hard to focus, especially if you have a crying child. The best thing you can do for your children at that moment is to remain calm and move over to the far right lane. That way if an exit comes up quickly, you can safely access the on-ramp. Stopping may seem inconvenient, but it is better to lose a little time than risk being involved in a crash.
What if a Distracted Driver Causes Me to Crash?
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, a distracted driver may lose control of his or her vehicle and cause a crash. If this happens and you suffer injuries, you may be eligible to seek compensation for your medical costs and other losses.
At Schmidt Kramer, we are prepared to help you through every step of the legal process. Even if you are unsure if you have a case, there is no risk in calling our law offices to discuss your situation. Your initial case review is completely free. If you hire our firm to represent you, there are also no upfront costs. We do not get paid for our services unless we recover compensation for you.
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