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Accid Anal Prev. 2011 May;43(3):1236-44. doi: 10.1016/j.aap.2011.01.005. Epub 2011 Feb 3.

Are child occupants a significant source of driving distraction?

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Monash University Accident Research Centre, Building 70, Clayton, VIC 3800, Australia.


Driver distraction represents a well-documented and growing contribution to the road safety problem. This study used a naturalistic, observational approach to examine if children in vehicles are a significant source of driving distraction. Families with children aged between 1 and 8 years drove an instrumented "study vehicle" on their regular trips for 3 weeks. A discrete video recording system in the vehicle provided images of the driver and front seat passenger, the rear seat child passengers and the traffic ahead. The video-recordings inside and outside the vehicle were analysed to identify potential distracting activities, where 'distraction' was broadly defined as any activity that distracted the driver or competed for their attention while driving. In addition, all potentially distracting activities that involved the driver looking away from the forward roadway for more than 2s while the vehicle was in motion were also coded. Video-recordings were analysed for 92 driving journeys undertaken by 12 families including 25 children and 19 drivers. The mean journey duration was approximately 16 min (range: 2 min-3h 34 min). Most journeys were undertaken during the day (89%), with the mother driving (65%) and without a front seat passenger (64%). Driving journeys were predominantly undertaken in urban areas (97%), on suburban roads/streets (94%), and under low complexity traffic conditions (91%). Most journeys involved some source of potential driver distraction (98%), with drivers distracted for 18% of the driving journey. The most frequent types of distracting activities that drivers engaged in included: touching their head or their face (35%), interacting with child passengers in the rear seat (12%), and engaging with the front seat passenger (9%). Almost three-quarters of these potentially distracting activities were engaged in by the driver while the study vehicle was in motion (72%) and 14% of all potentially distracting activities involved the driver's eyes off the roadway for greater than 2s while the vehicle was in motion, thereby potentially doubling their crash risk. The most frequent child-related activities that drivers engaged in included: turning to look at the rear seated occupants or viewing the children using the rear-view mirror (76.4%), engaging in conversation with their children (16%), assisting their children (e.g., passing food and drink [7%]) and playing with their children (1%). Drivers spent significantly longer periods of time engaged in non-child occupant-related activities compared with child occupant-related activities and were significantly more likely to have their eyes off the forward roadway for greater than 2s while engaged in non-child occupant-related activities (14%) compared to child occupant-related activities (10%). The results suggest that drivers need to be educated about the potential crash and injury risks associated with both child occupant-related and non-child occupant-related activities while driving their vehicle.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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