The Distracted Parent: Must Read Tips and Websites for Staying Focused and Driving Safely

Steering wheel at park If You Give a Sleep-Deprived Mommy a To-Do List…


I'm a highly distractible person. I get lost in thought, diverted, distracted, sidetracked, preoccupied or whatever term you want to label it. I recently read a blog post about this topic that called this behavior drifting. I thought that was a good term for it because I do most certainly drift from one thing to another in my house. I get started on one task and then have to go to another room for something else, forget the first task, see something else that has to be done, start on that, wander back to the room I started from and realize I never finished the first task, then realize I don't have time to finish the first task because I have to get ready to go somewhere. This sort of thing goes on all the time. My mind is always wandering, day dreaming, planning, analyzing, writing blog posts, etc. I usually have multiple screens open on my computer each concerning a different topic or thought I had about something; sometimes there's a basket of clean clothes, half-folded; the bills are out to be paid, but I haven't actually done anything with them yet. You get the idea. I'm also like this when I go shopping, despite having a detailed list I bounce around the store, and many times forget something on the list. It's a lot like the book "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie…." I think this is one of the causes of my perpetual tardiness, and an effect of my perpetual lack of sleep.


Despite all of this, I do manage to stay focused long enough to do my work, care for my kids, cook without burning the house down, drive reasonably safe and without getting lost. In fact, I have an intense focus much of time, especially when it has to do with my kids' safety. This is why I think it's important to try to drive with as few distractions as possible. I mean, honestly, I can't drive totally without distraction if the kids are in the car and awake. They provide much of the distraction: they are loud; sometimes crying; sometimes hitting or kicking each other, or my seat; trying to hand me cups, toys, books, items of clothing, half-eaten granola bars, etc; singing, shrieking or talking; pointing out cars that look like Lightning McQueen, Mater, Mack or Luigi; asking about cranes; asphalt making machines, construction workers; the distractions provided by my Darling Boys are never-ending. Based on the distractions that can't be quieted, I really should be focusing on cutting out as many other diversions as possible, including using my phone while on the road.


Driving Distractions


Distracted driving is a non-driving activity that a person engages in while driving that has the potential to distract him or her from the primary focus of driving. There are several types of distractions:

  • Visual: taking your eyes off the road, i.e. reading a text message; looking back at your squabbling kids;
  • Manual: taking your hands off the wheel, i.e. reaching for your child's sippy cup that has fallen (or more likely been thrown) on the floor; changing the radio or putting a CD in the player;
  • Cognitive: taking your mind off what you are doing, i.e. listening to and engaging in a conversation; daydreaming

We have all seen someone reading a book, texting, applying makeup, shaving (Dear Husband saw a man shaving in the car during his morning commute just last week), totally jamming out to the music, etc., and have been shocked that someone would actually attempt to do these things while driving. How terribly unsafe! Yet almost all of us would not think twice about answering our cell phones and/or making a phone call while driving. Here are some tips I found that are both sensible and simple. I think these tips are a good reminder of what we should not be doing while operating a massively heavy metal, glass, gas-filled object, capable of going tremendous speeds, yet potential deadly at any speed:

  • Avoid talking on your cell phone;
  • Never multi-task while driving, such as adjusting the radio, CD player or GPS unit;
  • Do not read while driving. When you need to read or use a map, pull off the road;
  • Avoid taking your coat off or changing clothes while driving.
  • Do not put makeup on, comb your hair, brush your teeth and/or shave while driving;
  • Avoid eating or drinking while driving;
  • Keep music at a reasonable level. Listening to music that is too loud or using headphones or earplugs while driving can be distracting and can prevent you from hearing emergency vehicles sharing the road with you;
  • Avoid lighting up or putting out cigarettes, or dealing with falling ashes while driving (and my opinion on this one is just don't smoke ever).


The Statistics

Based on the comments and discussion that Monday's post, Driving to Distraction Part II, elicited and the statistics recorded by nationwide studies, most people feel that texting is more dangerous than using a cell phone, and most people do use cell phones while driving. However, many drivers are now using hands-free devices, which are mandated by law in some states, as the only option available for talking on the phone while driving, in an effort to be "safer." But is that the safer choice? Is a driver less distracted when using a hands-free device?

Research indicates that whether it's a hands-free or hand-held device, the cognitive distraction is significant enough to degrade a driver's performance. The driver is more likely to miss key visual and audio cues needed to avoid a crash. So, the argument goes: isn't using a cell phone or hands-free device just like having a conversation with a passenger? Well, some research findings show both activities to be equally risky, while others show cell phone use to be more risky. A significant difference between the two is the fact that a passenger can monitor the driving situation along with the driver and pause for, or alert the driver to, potential hazards, whereas a person on the other end of the phone line is unaware of the roadway situation.

Research on distracted driving reveals some surprising facts:

  • Driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent. (Source: Carnegie Mellon)
  • Nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving a distracted driver, and more than half a million were injured. (NHTSA)
  • The younger, inexperienced drivers under 20 years old have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes.
  • Drivers who use hand-held devices are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves. (Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety)
  • Using a cell phone while driving, whether it's hand-held or hands-free, delays a driver's reactions as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent. (Source: University of Utah)

In the end, it is up to each driver to decide (unless the law decides for you) how necessary is it that you use your cell phone, hands-free or hand-held, based on a variety of factors: how many other distractions do you have at the time; what are the road conditions; how rested are you; what is your mental status or mood; how heavy is traffic; are you near a school or park; are you driving in residential areas or on a highway, etc. Regardless of what you decide or whether you agree with these statistics, the bare-bones truth is that talking while driving is one more distraction to add to a list of many.



I'm sure you have heard that Oprah has begun an initiative to get drivers to stop using cell phones and texting while driving. It's called "Oprah's No Phone Zone." Oprah is asking drivers to pledge not to text and/or use cell phones while driving. You can add your name to the pledge by going to this site:

Another very helpful website with all kinds of statistics and compiled research findings is:, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

And lastly,, the Governors Highway Safety Association website. It has great up-to-date information about state laws concerning texting and cell phone usage while driving.


The Scoop

So, based on the statistics and research findings, do you still feel safe using your phone, whether hands-free or hand-held while driving? Are you going to change your ways? Or do you feel it's one of the least distractions you have in the car? Are there other distractions you can eliminate? On Friday, I will post a bit of Motherly Advice. Next week, I am going to post about the laws related to booster car seats. Over and out…



In order to comment on, you'll need to be logged in. You'll be given the option to log in or create an account when you publish your comment. If you do not log in or create an account, your comment will not be displayed.