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The Globe and Mail

Kids, back-seat drivers the biggest distractions in the car

Globe Drive

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

There has been a great deal of media attention to the issue of distracted driving. The most popular topic is talking or texting on cell phones.

There also have been stories on fiddling with the audio system, eating, applying makeup, shaving and other interesting distracting. There have been pieces about the problem with conversing with passengers. But a recent survey in England has revealed that having children in the car is the biggest distraction for U.K. drivers.

A whopping 31 per cent of those surveyed said they were most distracted by "squabbling offspring" with comments from back-seat drivers coming in a close second for 28 per cent of drivers.

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Obviously the biggest single group having issues with children in the vehicle are those most likely to have children – adults in the 35-44 age range. Similarly younger (18-24) and older (over 55) have the most problems with "unhelpful comments" from back-seat drivers. Cellphones came in third on the distracted driving list.

As any parent with more than one child knows, siblings tend to squabble. Far from a phenomenon, this is a regular occurrence. The frequency and degree of these internecine events may vary but they will occur in the vehicle as some point. Any parent at the wheel cannot help but be distracted. In a perfect world we would be able to teach the little folk that they should behave perfectly while mommy or daddy is driving. Like that will happen ...

The answer, to my mind is to turn the tables on them – use distraction against them. If the children are otherwise engaged, they are less likely to be arguing with each other. Unless they are sharing something, in which case differences are strongly likely.

The old games parents used of identifying objects outside the vehicle in a competitive sense may still apply. The problem is that the parent is usually acting as judge, meaning they are distracted. Books, or these days a reader, may be an answer for those of reading age who are not affected by motion.

The more popular answer is video – whether shows, movies or games. Many vehicles now are available from the factory with a DVD player installed in the roof. Some have two screens there or on the rear of the front seat head restraints. Two screens are obviously better than one, allowing one to play games and the other to watch a movie, for example.

These "infotainment" systems can be expensive, especially since they are often packaged with other features like a sunroof or leather interior. They are also a profit-generating feature for the manufacturer and dealer.

Just as is the case with GPS-based navigation systems there are less expensive options. There are a wide variety of aftermarket entertainment systems available. Some are from new-car dealers and others from audio stores and places like Best Buy and Future Shop. Some of these can be easily transferred from one vehicle to another while some require installation. In almost all cases, they are less expensive than factory units, which do have the advantage of being carefully integrated into the interior and audio system.

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The other option – one that has been around for some time and keeps improving – are hand-held devices. These range from simple, small games and smartphones to laptops, iPads and the like. Not only do they do duty outside the vehicle, they allow the child to choose his or her distraction before setting out, be it a game or movie that can be pre-loaded or put in the vehicle system, ensuring the little person will be more likely to use it.

The fact they are planning ahead also alerts them to the fact they will be going for a long ride.

But you'll still get, "Are we there yet?"

Halifax-based Richard Russell runs a driving school.

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