Let’s Talk About Kids and Cars – Are you Distracted?

Recently when I drove my car into the parking lot of a grocery store and parked, I noticed a car across from mine where a woman was standing and talking on her cell phone. I couldn’t help but observe the scenario that was playing out in front of me–a serious safety challenge for a distracted caregiver was about to unfold! A young woman stood with an empty shopping cart talking on her cell phone, with her back to the open door of her 4-door sedan. Perhaps she had been interrupted by a phone call before helping her children get out of the car and into the cart. There were two young children in the car and from the way they moved in and around the back seat of the vehicle, I concluded they were not restrained by any kind of booster seat. I wondered how long the woman had been on the phone, and how long it would take for at least one of the children to find a way out of the car. Cars and pick-up trucks were entering and exiting the parking lot as the woman continued with the phone conversation without turning around to watch the children in her car–and in her care. I have to admit I was getting concerned.

As all parents come to realize, kids are nothing short of resourceful. It was no surprise finally that one young child was out of the breech and was playfully looking for a place to hide underneath a neighboring parked car. Fortunately, a male passerby loudly called the woman’s attention to the fact that one youngster was out of the car and the other one was about to follow. She was aghast–I will never forget the look of realization on the woman’s face at what could have happened. Once retrieved, the child was bundled back into the car with a “good-talking to,” and both children were remanded to the back seat (still no booster seat that I observed), the woman abandoned her cart and drove from the parking lot. The incident lasted maybe five minutes, and it could have ended in heartbreak. Thankfully, it did not.

That’s when I began to think seriously about the issue of distracted driving–and parking–especially about how parents can lose track of a child they are taking to daycare on their way to work, or how we, parents and caregivers, become so involved in what we are doing that we forget about the kids we are transporting. Yes, there are demands on our time, and yes, we are involved in careers, children’s school activities and other pursuits–and we are often our family’s regular or substitute chauffeurs. Lapses of attention and memory do occur and we get so committed to our routines that we may seem to be doing things by rote–but what can we do to prevent being distracted when we have children to whom we need to pay attention?

There are things we can do to remind ourselves that there are children in the backseat (even if they’re not making noise). We can put a backpack, a stuffed toy, lunches or some other item in the front seat that we need to give the children when we help them out of the car at the destination. We can set an alarm on our phones or other digital devices that reminds us to check the kids we are transporting. We can write ourselves a note and tape it to the dash board. We can make lists and immediately cross items off when we have completed them. Simply paying attention to your child is one of the best duties we can perform as parents.

Maybe one of the most important rules we can make for ourselves is to never, ever leave our kids alone in a parked car, not even for a minute. Whether a car’s engine is running or not, a child may be able to disengage parking gears in some vehicles. Children who are not restrained can get their limbs or head stuck in automatic windows or climb through backseats into trunks and become trapped. Children can become trapped in locked vehicles, so always take your children and your keys out of the car when you get out of the car.

And of course always remember that a vehicle’s interior becomes hot rapidly when it is parked in the sun. Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to high temperatures in cars with windows rolled up.

It’s time to stop the distracting habits we have while we’re driving–whether it’s talking or texting on a cell phone (which is now illegal in some states)–or watching a video on some digital device or mobile TV, eating, putting on make-up, or even chatting while driving–it’s time to become aware of what we’re doing and ditch the distractions!

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