Drivers with child passengers: Distracted but cautious?

Ida Maasalo, Esko Lehtonen, Heikki Summala

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

    13 Citations (Scopus)


    Objective: A remarkable portion of children's traffic-related deaths occurred when travelling in as passengers in vehicles, but so far, few studies have focused on crash characteristics and crash risks of drivers with child passengers. It has been assumed that drivers with child passengers drive responsibly, but on the contrary, children in vehicles can distract drivers, increasing crash risks. In this study, we examined fatal crash characteristics and fatal crash risks of drivers with child passengers. Methods: Fatal crash data from the U.S. Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) for 1996–2015 were used. Only passenger-vehicle drivers aged 23–46 years old were included in the analysis because they represent the typical age of drivers with 0–9-year-old child passengers in the database. Prevalence of crash characteristics and the odds of being at fault were examined for drivers with only child passengers and compared to drivers with only adult passengers, with no passengers and with both adult and child passengers. Analyses were done separately for intersection crashes and non-junction crashes. Results: Female drivers were involved in twice as many fatal crashes alone with child passengers compared to male drivers. Drivers with only child passengers were more often reported as being inattentive, but for them, risk-taking behaviours were less typical than for drivers without child passengers. Our results showed that these differences were more evident in non-junction crashes than in intersection crashes. When risk-taking behaviours were controlled, both male and female drivers with only child passengers had higher odds of being at fault than drivers with adult passengers (with or without children) in non-junction crashes, but these differences were not significant in intersection crashes. Conclusions: Drivers with child passengers represent a specific driver population. They have a higher tendency to engage in distractions while driving, but they have fewer risk-taking behaviour-related fatal crashes compared to drivers with no child passengers. Our results indicate that the effects of child-passenger-related distractions on fatal crash risks are more relevant outside intersections, presumably because drivers may try to self-regulate their interactions with child passengers and focus on driving in more demanding traffic situations.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)25-32
    JournalAccident Analysis and Prevention
    Early online date21 Jun 2019
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019
    MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


    • Adult passenger
    • Child passenger
    • Distraction
    • Fatal crash risk
    • Motor-vehicle accidents
    • Responsibility analysis


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