Cell phone madness

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On July 1st, a Washington state law banning handheld cell phones in cars will take effect. Generally, I am in favor of any rule that enhances road safety and I am especially fond of rules that shame drunk drivers. Still, as a mom of three kids, of all the distracting things that can happen in my car, a casual cell phone chat seems pretty tame.

So, here's my list of the top 5 most distracting things that can happen in a car with kids, not in any particular order:

  1. Feeding your children snacks of any kind. This includes turning around to aim and toss a bag of chips to a ravenous child two rows back in the minivan; stretching over as far as you can to hand a bottle to a wailing toddler in a car seat behind you; and yes, swinging your arm around like a pretzel to retrieve an item that your child cannot possibly stand to have in her possession for one more second lest it burn a hole of misery in her hand.
  2. Use of an infant rear view mirror. For those unfamiliar with this device, it is possible to purchase a special mirror that allows you to see your rear-facing infant through your own rear-view mirror. I found this item absolutely indispensable when my first baby was born, so much so that I installed one in each of our cars and even, I believe, took it on vacation. I am quite positive that I looked in it far more than was safe, and it is an absolute miracle that I did not crash into a telephone pole while frantically checking every ten seconds to be sure that my newborn was still breathing.
  3. Having your child puke all over himself, the car, and of course, into all the unbelievably complex nooks and crannies of his car seat. This, I am quite sure, requires no explanation.
  4. Fighting of any kind. Particularly risky is the kind of fighting that involves whether someone has copycatted, crossed into another child's personal space, called someone a name or stuck out their tongue. All such conflicts immediately result in high-pierced shrieking, for some reason just as you are changing lanes or merging into high-speed traffic.
  5. Pestering questions. All highly distracting, some of my personal favorites are: "Why can't I go to my big sister's friend's birthday party?", "Why didn't you remember to bring my favorite toy?", and "Why is that man doing that thing?" Also very good are, "What did you say to that lady, mommy?", and "Why is that person honking at us?"

As it happens I'm covered, because I already own a hands-free device, mainly so I can talk on the phone while I push the stroller, haul the diaper bag, juggle my purse, and return a load of library books all at the same time. But if they're going to restrict handheld cell phones in cars, they really ought to ban small children from them altogether. Until then, I highly suspect parents will continue to be as distracted as ever when driving -- only now they will have an extra hand free to toss that bag of chips in the back too.

Carol Schiller is a full time mom to three children ages 8, 5 and 2. She is also the founder and President of Baby Chaleco, a baby bib company based in Bellevue, WA. www.babychaleco.com She can be reached for comment at cschiller@babychaleco.com.

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