6 Dangerous Driving Mistakes Moms Make

More Driving Mistakes

Seriously: The moms in our survey log a consecutive 5 hours and 20 minutes of sleep a night--an hour and a half less than the 6 hours and 50 minutes that truckers average, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Of course, it's no surprise that we're bleary-eyed, but what is remarkable is how drastically it affects our driving. "Just one night on such little rest will slow your reaction time behind the wheel," Dr. Strayer says. Even if you think your eyes are open, it's possible for you to fall into a brief three- to four-second episode of sleep in traffic without realizing it.

Yet we spend plenty of road time running on empty. Moms average a staggering 150 miles a week, running errands and zipping to day care and music classes. And more than a third of those polled reported buckling up despite feeling too tired to drive.

"I had to pull over once because I was literally falling asleep with my 3-month-old son, Nicholas, in the back," says Larysa DiDio, who lives in Pleasantville, New York. "I kept veering off the road and slapping my face to stay awake. So I found a shady spot in the back of a Kmart parking lot, cracked the windows and locked the doors, and the baby and I napped! I remember thinking, Should I be sleeping here? "It beats the alternative: 56,000 crashes a year are attributed to driving while drowsy, according to the NHTSA. And as with distracted driving, the risk of having an accident is the same as when driving drunk.

Before you grab your car keys, ask yourself if the trek is necessary or if your partner can do it. If you're already out and suddenly feel as though you might nod off, follow NHTSA recommendations and do what DiDio did: Pull off the road, find a safe, shady area, crack the windows, lock the doors, and set the timer on your phone to wake you after a power nap. If your munchkin won't have that, down some caffeine (200 milligrams, about two cups of coffee), which can temporarily perk you up. Then head straight home. For the record: Opening a window or listening to music doesn't work, NHTSA says.

Nearly 10 percent of new moms in our poll have been in a crash while driving their baby. That might not sound like much, but it's nearly three times higher than the rate among the general population. "It's on the order of the accident rate of teen drivers--a group we think of as particularly at risk," Dr. Durbin says. One possible cause: looking back at Baby. A whopping 64 percent of you have turned around to tend to your tot's needs while driving. "I find that alarming," Dr. Strayer says. "Taking your eyes off the road, even for two seconds, increases your risk of an accident. In that time, a car going 55 miles per hour will travel 176 feet, about half the length of a football field, with no one really piloting it."

Megan Catalano, of Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, mom of 2-year-old Cameron, gets it. She recently had a near miss because of a Pillow Pet. "I was driving on the highway from my in-laws' house in North Carolina to our home in New Jersey," she says. "My daughter was fussy, so I handed her Pillow Pet back to her to help her nod off. Meanwhile, the guy in front of me pulled onto the shoulder and came to a stop--with his car partly in my lane. Because I was distracted, I almost hit him. It was so scary."

Another bad habit is that we rush around town on autopilot, figuring that it's familiar turf. In fact, "half of crashes that involve children occur within 10 miles of the kid's home, on the everyday trips moms make," says Dr. Durbin. "There's a lot to contend with on local roads--intersections, lights, turn lanes, driveways--even more than on highways."

Before you take off, say to yourself, "Okay, I have a lot going on, but I need to focus on driving now." "That pause that you're about to do something that deserves your attention works," Dr. Strayer says. And, of course, eliminate distractions as much as you can (see #1).

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