Half of Parents in America Use Cellphones With Young Children in the Car

One in three parents read text messages while driving in the car with their children, a study found. Getty Images

About half of all parents use their cellphone while driving with their child in the car, according to a study published in The Journal of Pediatrics.

An online survey completed by 760 parents and caregivers in the U.S. across 47 states also found that one in three had read text messages while driving with a child between 4 and 10 years old in the past three months, and one in seven had checked social media.

The study also found that parents who used their cellphones while driving with children were more likely to engage in other risky behaviors with or without a child present, such as not wearing a seat belt or drinking while driving.

The results of the study, a collaboration between researchers at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (Penn Nursing), come amid what experts regard as a public health crisis: distracted driving.

Distracted driving causes about one in four car crashes, according to the study.

In 2015, the number of fatal car crashes involving children 14 or younger spiked by 5 percent, reaching 3,477. An additional 330,000 individuals were injured. Talking on hand-held and hands-free devices, texting, phoning or using the internet are among the main causes of distracted driving by parents and caregivers, previous research has found.

A 2016 study by Britain's University of Sussex found that using a hands-free device while driving was as distracting as using hand-held technology.

To give a more detailed picture of distracted driving among the parents and caregivers of younger children, the researchers conducted an online survey. The participants had to be at least 18 and either the parent or routine caregiver of a child between 4 and 10. Participants also had to have driven the oldest child in their care at least six times in the preceding three months.

Related: Drinking this much coffee could help keep your heart healthy, study suggests

In the three months before taking the survey, more than 52 percent of respondents said they had talked on a hands-free device while driving with a small child, and 47 percent said they had talked on a hand-held device. Almost 34 percent of parents had read text messages, and around 27 percent had sent an SMS. Another 14 percent had used social media while driving.

The questionnaire also dealt with child safety seats and found that 14.5 percent of parents did not use one. Those who used cellphones while driving were also more likely to not use a safety seat.

Catherine McDonald, author of the study and an assistant professor of nursing in the family and community health department at Penn Nursing, said in a statement that clinicians should educate parents on driving safely by using seat belts and not using cellphones.

"This type of education is especially pivotal today, as in-vehicle technology is rapidly changing and there is increased—and seemingly constant—[reliance] on cellphones," she said.

"However, it is also important to note that even parents who did not engage in risky behaviors, such as not wearing a seat belt as a driver or driving under the influence of alcohol, still used their cellphones while driving," McDonald added.

Further research is needed to uncover whether children learn these dangerous behaviors from their parents.