CHOP study: Despite kids in backseat, parents not putting down their phones

Distracted driving puts passengers at risk of a crash. (AP PHOTO)

Distracted driving puts passengers at risk of a crash. (AP PHOTO)

If you are reading this story on your phone while driving…put down the phone. You are engaging in something called distracted driving, and it puts you at increased risk for a crash.

And if you have kids in the car, it puts them at risk too.

New research shows many parents are using their phones while driving with young children in the car, and that behavior is also correlated with other risky driving habits, potentially endangering children even more.

The study by researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia surveyed 760 parents online and found that 52 percent had talked on a hands-free phone while driving with a young child in the car, while 47 percent had used a hand-held phone. About one third read text messages, while more than one quarter sent them, and about one in seven used social media while behind the wheel.

Those surveyed were the parent or routine caregiver of a child between the ages of 4 and 10 and had driven their child at least six times in the preceding three months.

More than 3,000 people were killed in the U.S. due to distracted driving in 2016, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and 391,000 people were injured in 205.

Catherine McDonald, senior fellow at CHOP’s Center for Injury Research and Prevention, lead the new study and said this study takes what we know about distracted driving a step further.

“These data are telling us that parents are engaging in behaviors that potentially put them at risk for a crash,” she said. “And when their children are in the car with them, if there’s a crash there’s potential for injury for that child.”

The study also found a correlation between cell phone use and other risky driving behaviors like not wearing a seatbelt, not using a child restraint, and driving under the influence.

Car crashes are a leading cause of death in children, and NHTSA data show the number of deaths for those 14 years old and younger due to motor vehicle accidents rose by 5 percent in 2015.

Given the known dangers of distracted driving, McDonald said her study provides an opportunity for pediatricians to talk to parents about car safety. She also said it’s important to understand that using a phone while driving gives kids the impression that doing so is safe.

“Parents who are using their cell phone while driving with their kids in the back seat, those children may be watching them use their cell phone while they’re driving,” she said. “It’s modeling unsafe behaviors for those young children in the back, who may later become teenage drivers themselves.”

More than anything, she said people need to understand that cell phone use while driving endangers everyone in the car and other drivers as well.

“We need people to keep their eyes on the road, their hands on the wheel, and minds on the task of driving when they’re on the road,” she said.

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