How to Limit Distractions
"Parents minimize the dangers of multitasking because they say they do it all the time. What they don't understand is that driving isn't like any other time," says Ulczycki. It only takes a second or two to lose control or for traffic to change, and in those few seconds with your attention off the road, you could get into a crash. Some tips for staying focused:
Make snacks easy to handle, hard to spill. Driving expert Kristin Varela, founder of Mother Proof LLC, recommends keeping bite-size, nonmessy snacks like Goldfish and Cheerios in preportioned individual containers. A good choice: Snack Traps, which are hard to spill and easy for kids to handle. Keep these and spillproof drink cups next to you or in a backseat travel organizer that little ones can access on their own. (Go to motherproof.com for product info and stores.) The same rule about keeping things close at hand applies to grown-ups: If you must have that cup of java while driving, make sure it's in a spillproof cup that fits in your cup holder. Sipping sodas through a straw will also help you focus on the road. And rethink the old fast-food drive-through: Instead of handing out french fries on the highway, take a few minutes and eat while parked. It's the same in-car convenience without the on-road chaos.
Put the phone away. Talking on the phone while driving is not safe, even if you have a hands-free setup with a headset or a device you can talk right into like a speakerphone. "Driving and using the cell phone takes your mind off the road, and that increases your risk of a crash," says Ulczycki. Not that you shouldn't have a cell phone in your car -- just don't use it while driving. If you must be accessible to others, keep the phone on but put it away in your purse so you're not tempted to use it. "If the phone rings, and it could be urgent, you can pull over and return the call," Ulczycki says.
Orchestrate entertainment ahead of time. Load the CD or DVD player before you hit the road, even if you don't plan on playing anything immediately. iPod plug-ins, which come in many new cars or can be bought with adapters from catalogs, are a fantastic option because there's no need to fiddle with disks and they can be uploaded with books from the computer, which are great for long rides, Varela says. Keep car-friendly fun -- stuffed animals and other soft items that aren't choking hazards -- at arm's reach in the backseat console or in a pouch that hangs from the back of the front seat. Avoid balls in the car because they're hard to hold on to and can easily disturb the driver. Also keep all heavy toys -- as well as any other hard objects -- properly secured, ideally in the back with a cargo cover or cargo net. Pets, a major source of distraction on the road, should be restrained in the back or in a carrier.
Lay down the ground rules. Right from the start, children need to learn what behaviors are not appropriate for the car. "Tell them that there is no screaming because that makes it dangerous for Mommy to drive," Varela says. And when that fever-pitched crying strikes, breathe deeply, turn up the radio, and wait for a red light to pick lovey up off the floor or to make sure there's nothing truly terrible going on. Lastly, don't be afraid of bribery. If a promised game of Candy Land or the chance to choose what's for lunch encourages a preschooler to stay in line or even entertain the baby, go for it.