I've had quite my share of "bad mommy" moments--but there's one that still makes me shudder: It was a June day and I had taken my then 3-week-old daughter, Campbell, on a Target run. I started down the aisle, ticking off my list, when I realized: Oh my God, Campbell's not here. Where is she?
I raced outside. Sure enough, I'd left her in the car. A hot car. I was horrified with myself. But she was so quiet back there--and I was just so tired--that I'd spaced out. She was dozing peacefully, but it was a huge eye-opener for me: Protecting my child is my first priority, yet there I was, driving her around when I was exhausted and unfocused. Judging by the results of our survey, a whole lot of you can relate. American Baby partnered with Safe Kids Worldwide, an organization aimed at preventing childhood injuries, to poll 2,396 new mothers about their driving habits. What we discovered shocked even the experts.
A vast majority of new moms surveyed (63 percent) claim they're more cautious behind the wheel since giving birth, but the stats suggest otherwise. We're getting in the car when we feel admittedly too tired to drive--and once on the road, we're chatting on our phone, checking email, sending texts, and handing out Binkys, all while hurtling through traffic. "Looking at this data was like reading the results of a teen-driver survey, in terms of the unsafe habits new moms have: driving fatigued, getting distracted by passengers and technology, always being in a hurry," says Dennis Durbin, M.D., a pediatric emergency physician and scientific director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
But our point isn't to guilt trip! It's to help keep you and your precious cargo safe every time you turn the engine on. Start by reading up on the most common driving mistakes our survey says new moms make, then take a U-turn toward smarter behavior. Happy travels!
1. WE HAVE WAY TOO MANY DISTRACTIONS.
Nearly three quarters of us say we're more flustered in our daily lives since having kids, and two thirds of moms find it tough to concentrate on a single task. That lack of focus carries over to the driver's seat. "It's become part of our culture to not just drive, but to drive and do 20 other things," says Kate Carr, president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide. Now while we're checking email and applying lip gloss, we've got an adorable-but-needy baby in the back seat. In fact, 98 percent of parents driving with a child report being preoccupied for nearly a third of the time they're on the road, Australian research shows. The result, as you can probably guess, is not good: On average, distracted driving causes 8,000 crashes a day, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates.
Play offense, not defense. If you've got a fussy-pants passenger, rather than taking your eyes and hands off the wheel, pull over. Find a safe spot, such as a parking lot, and deal with whatever he needs (bottle, fresh diaper, Cheerios). And don't try to make up that time once you're on the road again. In our poll, 55 percent of moms admit to driving above the speed limit to make it to day care or to get home with their wailing baby faster. "But adding speed to situations when you're not focused is scary--the risk of an accident isn't worth the few minutes you might save," Dr. Durbin says. Repeat after us: It's okay to be late for that pediatrician appointment.
2. WE DON'T KEEP OUR CELLPHONE IN THE BACKSEAT.
But experts say we should. Our survey revealed that 78 percent of us talk on the phone while driving with our baby, and that 26 percent text or check email. All are unquestionably reckless. "Research shows you're four times more likely to have an accident when you talk on your cell, even hands-free," says David Strayer, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and a leading researcher on car accidents and distracted driving. "That's the same risk as driving drunk," he adds. "When you text or email, your odds of having a crash shoot up eightfold, making it twice as risky as drunk driving. It's ironic, because if you ask moms if they'd ever drink and drive with their baby in the car, they'd say to you, 'Absolutely not!' But people don't consider cellphone use to be equally, if not more, dangerous."
At home and work, you may thrive on multitasking, but that approach doesn't belong on the road. None of us are good at doing several things at once, and "driving is a multitasking activity, before you add the phone," Dr. Durbin says. Studies show that when we start chatting, our brains miss half the visual information (brake lights, stop signs, pedestrians) we need to see to drive safely.
Turn off your phone and put it in the backseat. You won't be tempted to talk on it while driving or, worse, check or send texts and emails. At the very least, treat your phone the way you would if you were going into an important meeting: Turn off the ringer--so the "ding!" of notifications won't entice you to check it--then stash it in your purse or anywhere it won't be within reach.