Wednesday, January 19, 2000

Driven to distraction

Admit it, it's happened to you. You're driving down the highway, trying to tune out the Sesame Street tape you're hearing for the 5,642nd time, thinking about work or groceries or errands or that cute doctor on "ER," when suddenly open warfare breaks out in the backseat. Maybe somebody touched somebody, or took somebody's toy, or looked at somebody in a way that somebody did not wish to be looked at. Personal space has been invaded. Feelings have been violated. All hell has broken loose.

So you do what any good parent would do: You turn around and issue threats. If you're lucky, and do not meet with resistance from the injured parties, your eyes are only off the road for a few seconds. And when you turn back around, you hope that you do not see stalled traffic or the shoulder of the road or perhaps a tree approaching at 55 mph.

Parents have been perfecting this maneuver since the first caveman lifted his club and grunted, "I'll pull this wheel over right now and we'll just sit here until you can behave," and it's one of the top distracting driving behaviors found in a survey conducted by the Response Insurance Corporation of White Plains, New York. Of a thousand drivers questioned, 12 percent admitted to taking their eyes off the road to quiet screaming children. Fifty-six percent did the same to talk to someone in the car, and one wonders how often that someone was under the age of 10.

The survey also delineated various other driving dangers, including makeup applying, contact-lens inserting, laptop using, and nose picking. But this is the stuff of amateurs. Parents have more interesting things to do at high speeds than put on mascara or put in eyedrops. How many of these stupid parent tricks have you performed?

• Removing packaging from a Toys 'R Us purchase while steering through the crowded parking lot with your elbows.

• Stretching backward to force a recalcitrant child to PUT THAT SEATBELT BACK ON NOW!

• Feeding red-hot french fries one by one to a toddler in the backseat who can't be trusted with the bag.

• Grabbing an object of dispute and declaring it yours.

• Steering with one hand and doing the amazing contortionistic backward backseat window-rolling-up maneuver with the other.

• Quieting a full-blown, screaming, crying, threatening fit.

• Throwing a full-blown, screaming, crying, threatening fit.

• Throwing a Sesame Street tape out the window.

And of course, the most amazing, death-defying feat of them all:

• Driving while under the influence of children.

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