The majority of accidents happen close to home, yet on short trips, parents have a tendency to toss caution to the wind. That’s the key finding in our new study, which looked at how parents with kids of all ages -- from infant to teenager -- change their driving behavior when their kids are in the car.
We recently surveyed more than 1,800 parents here in the United States to see just how much changes for parents once children are on board. While it is no surprise that a majority of parents (82%) reported becoming safer drivers since having children, there is still one crucial area where parents continue to miss the mark when it comes to overall driving safety -- taking short trips, close to home. Parents are not only less likely to follow car seat and seat belt protocols, but they are also less organized and more distracted during shorter trips.
For parents, a car trip can be an exercise in patience and organization. Depending on the age of their children, there are car seats, snacks, drinks, diaper bags, electronics, and let’s not forget the back seat sibling fights to contend with. It’s easy to see how, when just hopping in the car for a short trip, it may be easy to try to make things easier, but the reality is that even in the shortest of trips, parents need to follow the same safety precautions they would on longer trips.
Let’s take a look at the findings and see where the biggest opportunities to improve are:
How To Keep Children Safe When Driving Short Distances
1. Don’t skip the car seat
Car seat safety needs to be a top priority for parents every single time a child is put in the car. However, we found that 76% of parents with children that typically ride in a car seat said they are less likely to ensure their child is properly buckled into their car seat during short trips.
Parents need to first insist their child ride in the car seat regardless of how short the trip may be. 1 in 4 parents do not do this and even admitted to letting their child ride in the car without their car seat when driving less than a mile.
2. Always double-check that the seat belt is buckled
Second, it is imperative that parents ensure that their child is properly buckled at all times, no matter the circumstances. 26% of parents said that they were not always confident their child was buckled properly when someone other than themselves put their child in their car seat. Further, 26% of parents also admitted that they sometimes drive their child’s friends around without a proper car seat for them. Before parents put the car in drive, they need to be sure that every child in their car is safely situated and making sure that if they will be riding with someone else, that there is a car seat readily available for their child to use.
3. If it’s cold, take their coats off first
Lastly, while it has long been reported that children should not wear coats while in car seats, at least two-thirds of parents of infants, toddlers, and elementary-aged children admitted that they are more likely to leave a coat on in a car seat for short trips. While it is understandable that parents want to keep their children warm, coats effectively negate the safety benefits of car seats and leave their children open to risk. While the task of putting on and removing coats in the cold can be tedious, it is a practice that parents should follow consistently.
4. Don’t skimp on being prepared
Unprepared parents bring a whole other level of distraction to the road. We found that parents are admittedly less prepared for shorter car trips (33%), leading to heightened distraction behind the wheel. 83% of parents say they are overall less organized with snacks and drinks, and 77% are less likely to organize their children’s electronics before hitting the road on a shorter trip. Yet, 78% of parents admit to being distracted while driving in order to hand their children snacks and drinks.
5. Set up electronics before you take off
Along with food and snacks, electronics are also a major distraction factor for parents. 40% of parents admit to managing children’s electronics while they are driving. 80% admit they are less likely to preload their GPS prior to starting a trip, and another 66% admit to being more likely to have their cell phone accessible during short trips.
Parents should do all they can to cut down on distraction prior to putting the car in-drive. Presetting music and audio levels, setting up their children’s electronics, stowing away cell phones, preloading GPS tools and familiarizing themselves with where they are going before they hit the road, are all simple tasks that can drastically cut down on distraction once the car is moving -- regardless of how long the drive will be.
No Matter the Distance, Parents Must Keep Safety Top of Mind
Unfortunately, despite continued warnings surrounding the heightened risks while driving close to home, parents are no closer to taking the necessary measures to ensure that their children remain safe. The levels of precaution taken cannot be dependent on how long a car trip will be.
21% of parents who admitted to being less prepared for shorter trips, cited that because the drive is so short, they see the trip as “low risk.” However, as an industry we know there is no such thing as low risk when it comes to driving. Parents must remain vigilant in following and enforcing safe driving behavior, no matter how far their next journey takes them.
For more information on safe driving practices and to learn more about our online driver training and resources, please visit https://www.idrivesafely.com/.
This article was written and based on a 2020 survey and research conducted by the team of driving safety experts at idrivesafely.com.