Car Rules for Kids: What Parents Can Do to Limit Driving Distractions

Every parent knows how distracting it can be driving with kids in tow. According to, “A crying child in the back of the car is as distracting to the driver as talking on a mobile phone.” And it’s not only crying that can make a driver distracted and stressed. Questions of “Are we there yet?” echo over pleas for snacks and drinks, dropped toys and bickering between siblings can often cause not only distractions to the driver, but also danger on the road.

According to the United States Department of Transportation, there are three types of driver distractions, as referenced by David Petrie of The Huffington Post:

1. Visual distractions lead drivers to take their eyes off the road.

2. Manual distractions lead drivers to take their hands off the wheel.

3. Cognitive distractions lead drivers to take their minds off what they’re doing.

Texting while driving hits on all of these types of distractions, however, unfortunately so does driving with kids in tow. Here are some helpful car rules for kids to help keep parents, or anyone driving with kids, safer on the road.

Car rules for kids image

Picture by Zane and Seth

  • Keep calm. You’ve heard the popular slogan, “Keep calm and carry on.” Well, it doesn’t necessarily apply to driving while distracted. In the case of driving with crying or noisy babies and children, if you find yourself losing your cool, it’s best to pull over until you can maintain composure, settle little ones down and gather your wits about you again. And it’s also okay to remind older kids to remain calm as your littlest passengers too.
  • Use inside voices. If it’s not possible to institute a “no talking to mommy or daddy while they’re driving” rule, then at least curb as much parent and child conversations as you can while you drive. Also, encourage kids to use their inside voices to limit the amount of noise in the backseat as possible. This will help to limit driving distractions for you as the driver.
  • Keep your hands to yourself. This is a rule that most adults have heard countless times while they were children. This car rule will help your kids limit the amount of sibling bickering and fighting while you drive from place to place.
  • Always keep seat belts buckled. This is a non-negotiable rule for all your passengers. Buckling up isn’t just a safety precaution, it’s the law, so educate your children on the proper use of their seat belt and restrict them from ever unbuckling while the car is running.
  • Stay in the back. Did you know that the current recommendation is that no one under the age of 12 should sit in the front seat while you’re driving? While it may not be a law like buckling your seat belt, it is for the safety of your kids that you make them sit in the back while driving.
  • Get a grip. Let your kids know that if they drop a toy, sippy cup, pacifier, etc. and they aren’t able to reach it, it stays there until you stop the car. Not only do children produce distractions while driving, when you are trying to reach in the back seat to rescue a dropped toy, you are no longer completely focused on the road. It’s best to leave items alone until you can pull over or park.

All these suggestions are great ways to keep your whole family safe and happy while driving.  So, keep driving distractions to a minimum when you’re driving with kids in tow.

About the Author

By , on Sep 21, 2012
Andy Tenton
Andy is a 30-something New Yorker who turned his financial life around. He took charge of his finances, got out of debt, and is now working his way toward financial success. He is the publisher of

How to Become Rich e-Course

Budgeting 101


  1. My worst backseat nightmare occured in the middle of the night when I was traveling with my young daughter. I’d hit bumper to bumper traffic in DC with no where to pull off when my daughter woke up and began screaming about needing to be out of the car seat. Not a good situation.

    It’s nice to have your spouse riding shotgun to take care of backseat distractions. Unfortunately, with even the most well behaved kids it’s hard to minimize backseat distraction.

  2. My kid isn’t old enough to be much of a distraction yet, but we took a 13-hour road trip to Cali a month ago, and him crying because he couldn’t sleep and me being driving all night was definitely a distraction. I know my limits, so we weren’t in any danger, but I could see if that went on for too long being a HUGE distraction.

    Oh, the toddler years, how they are fast approaching. We’ll see how we handle the car rides then 🙂

  3. My 2 girls can be very distracting in the car while driving. Definitely more distracting than my cell phone…. It is not as if they throw things at me while driving, but is more like the scene in “Dumb and Dumber” where Loyd asks Harry if he wants to hear the most annoying sound in the word.

    That pretty much sums up driving in the car with my kids 🙂

  4. Kid are terribly distracting. I pay pretty good attention when I am on the road, but I did take out a bank pole (it was fine, but my car needed $2K in repairs!) while I turned around to see what little miss was whining about. My sister took our her neighbors mailbox for the same reason. Yes, we should all just keep eyes forward, but it’s hard to do, and I am certainly guilty of not paying attention from time to time.

    • Modest Money says:

      I wonder how many accidents each day are caused by something like this. I’m sure it would be very tempting to just turn around anytime your little one needs you. That brief distraction from the road can be disastrous though. To a parent, a child’s well being is just so important though. So you can’t exactly just ignore those cries for help.

  5. Michelle says:

    Do you know what the worst is? When you’re in traffic on the highway and you have a screaming newborn who you’re pretty sure just had diarrhea and has NO clue what “mommy will get you out of your torture device as soon as I can” means. If I weren’t surrounded by other drivers, I would have been screaming myself!

    • So this is what I have to look forward to when I have kids? Yikes!

    • MomofTwoPreciousGirls says:

      OR, when you are in traffic and your husband has gone off to hang out with his friend, leaving you with the children, and your three yo says, my tummy hurts and proceeds to puke EVERYWHERE in your car that is less than 6 mos old. Then having to pull over and having to strip that child naked on the side of the road, clean her off and thankfully having all the luggage in the trunk, taking said husbands shorts that seem to perfectly fit the car seat for your child to sit on in order to get to the hotel to be able to bathe her!!!

      Music was not a if help that time around! The perfect end to the story was that her 2yo sister also needed a bath, because while I was cleaning the car seat, the older one was in the front seat and got a hold of a pen that she gave to little sister who then wrote all over herself! All this happened around 3 in the afternoon and my husband did not get back from his night of fun until 2 in the morning! I was one unhappy mommy!

  6. Modest Money says:

    This has got me thinking back to how bad a child passenger I must have been. I’m pretty sure I was always bickering with my sister and causing all kinds of distraction. It must take a lot of patience to be able to put up with it all while behind the wheel of a car. I guess this is where it really helps to have another parent in the car for longer trips. The last thing you want is to be driving dangerously with your kids in the car.

  7. I have too bookmark this one into “for when I’m a mommy” folder. *rolls eyes* Wow… just had a quick flash-forward lol. I just hope when I have kids they’re not so wild.

  8. I think your point about stay calm is exactly right. Too many times parents will get upset or even just try and regulate the situation instead of focusing on driving. This will cause the car ride to be unsafe. Deal with rowdy kids once you have reached your destination.

  9. My mom put the fear of god in us while she was driving. She also drove a huge conversion van so my brother and I never had to sit together.

  10. My kids can be so distracting while driving. Not only do we have to listen to their movies the whole time, but they also whine and ask for things. Thank goodness I love them =)

  11. Good post. This is definitely applicable to me with three under the age of 5. They can be very distracting at times, but we’ve all learned to roll with the punches and they’ve learned to contain their energy…if just a bit. 🙂 I agree with the previous comment that something like music makes a HUGE difference for the kids. It does tend to calm them down. Many times it’s music they like…which is ok since it keeps us safe, but they’ll listen to my music as well and generally be compliant.

  12. MomofTwoPreciousGirls says:

    I know parents (including my husband) that disagree, but I totally stocked on children’s music CDs and I play them when we are in the car if the kids start to get unruly. Music calms the average beast after all! I found those Rock a Baby CDs useful too. It’s mom and dads favorites turned into child friendly instrumentals. Bands like smashing pumpkins, tool, Metallica all have rock a baby CDs! It’s nice and calm for when you want the kids to nap, but you can sing the lyrics in your head too!

    Other parents don’t like to get the kids used to listening to their music and instead wan the kids to get used to listening what mom and dad listen to…this is one area I don’t mind giving up to the kids, bc it keeps them calm which keeps mom calm and all of us safe!

  13. Kids are more distracting than cell phones, because with cell phones you don’t need to turn around and use your hand in one way or another to tone down the distraction. And you can always end a call when you want to.

    So why is it that so many people get so worked up about cell phone users, trying to compile statistics and everything, and the biggest distraction of all is never talked about? Just curious…

    • Andy says:

      Because we can’t ever blame something on our innocent little children. 🙂 Too many people would get outraged.

      • Joe Morgan says:

        Having 3 kids of my own I always wondered about the stupid cell phone laws passed in my state (NY) and others… 1). you can’t enforce them effectively, and 2). kids are WAY more distracting… I suppose if we give them enough time, they’ll simply ban “distracted driving”. It’s vague enough no one will be able to determine how ineffective the law would be. 🙂

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