TEXTING while driving is popularly considered the most dangerous distraction from the road but surprising new research shows that driving with children in the back seat is even more risky.
Researchers at the Monash University Accident Research Centre have found that children are 12 times more distracting to the driver than talking on a cell phone.
They took three weeks of footage of 12 families with one to three children in a large family sedan equipped with four cameras.
The results showed the average parent takes their eyes off the road for 18% of the time, mostly turning to look at a child in the rear seat or watching them in the rear-view mirror. This makes playing taxi driver to tots more risky than eating, drinking, chatting with your front seat passenger and the dreaded mobile phone.
Monash Associate Professor Judith Charlton said drivers often didn't consider their own children to be a distraction and needed to be educated on the risks.
"The costs of distracted driving are undeniable - one major and previously unrecognised distraction is kids in the backseat," she said.
Mum of four children Kara Parrish said driving with her mostly primary school-aged kids had always required extra concentration.
"I had three (baby) seats on the back seat at one stage," Ms Parrish said.
"It is quite scary how distracted you can get."
Two of the "emergencies" the primary school teacher encountered when her children were toddler-age were back- seat squabbles, which can cause ear-piercing shrieks, and precious food and toys - and dummies - falling down to the floor from the car seat.
"The other one is our third child Alice worked out how to unbuckle herself."
Her advice: drive defensively and be prepared.
"To a certain extent you have to ignore what's going on and say 'mummy's driving now and she can't be distracted."
"You realise it's prob- ably the most important thing you're doing that day."