Driving With Children

Dear Parent,

A father, joking about the “Distracted While Driving” laws, said, “I am perfectly safe drinking coffee or eating while driving. What shouldn’t be allowed is driving with children in the car.” I think we can all agree that children in the car provide a major distraction. Unfortunately, statistics confirm that, whether it was a passenger-caused distraction, driving while impaired, or other sad circumstance, a high number of child deaths and injuries happen in cars. What does one do in order to minimize the risks?

Since we can’t control, or even always influence, the events around us, the first line of defense is to ensure that a child is correctly belted into a car seat designed for a child of his weight and height. This, of course, means that you don’t ever give in to a child’s demands to be unbelted in the car at any speed or for any distance. A child can still suffer injury being thrown forward at 20 miles an hour.

When two or more children are in a car there is likely to be some arguing between them. If you have two or more children, or drive a car pool, you have experienced this already. You may be driving the car, but they are driving you nuts. Like the father mentioned above, you will be distracted. Often, simply ignoring the discord and suggesting an easy game will stop the arguing. Examples of games: “Who can see a semi (delivery truck, police car, or convertible)?” Find something red (any color or shape).” “Find something that starts with the ‘a’ sound (and so on through the alphabet).” Another quick fix is putting on some favorite children’s songs and singing along. As a bonus, these games and songs promote early childhood education.

There will be times when the quick fixes don’t work. One strategy is to find a safe place to pull over and then sit saying nothing until the voices in the back seat quiet down. Then remind the children about the “no arguing in the car rule.” The other option is to keep driving while telling them that, because they have broken the “no arguing in the car rule” they will owe you five minutes of quiet sitting when you get to your destination. And then make that happen.

Did you notice that I did not advise trying to settle the argument? Parents are often too quick to jump into the fray, thereby causing the argument to continue as each child tries to get the parent on their side. This is guaranteed to further distract parents. Only be the heavyweight enforcer when you need to stop bullying or physical harm.

One last reminder. Your children watch you drive now. When they are in their teens, they will adopt your driving style. If you are typically a Fast Freddy or a Dodging Debby, calm down. Doing so will keep them safe now and in the future.

We can make wise choices and take simple actions to increase our child’s safety. Nobody ever wants to be that parent who says ‘I should have…”


Evelyn Satterlee, M.Ed.

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