Forget stereotypes of granny and gramps as feeble oldsters unable to drive safely. In fact, the results of a new study published today in the journal Pediatrics show that children may just be safer with grandma or grandpa behind the wheel.
Surprised? So were the researchers, who expected just the opposite to be true. The study’s author, Dr. Fred Henretig, 64, an emergency medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said he got the idea for the study based on his own experiences driving his first grandchild three years ago. He wondered if anyone had ever looked at statistics involving grandparents driving children before.
The study results are from an analysis of State Farm Insurance claims in 15 states for the years 2003-2007, as well as driver interviews. The data involved nearly 12,000 children up to the age of 15.
Looking at injuries instead of who had the most crashes, the study found that children had a 50 percent lower risk for injury when riding with grandparents rather than parents. Only about 10 percent of kids in the study were driven by grandparents, but they suffered proportionately fewer injuries. An important point is that the average age of the grandparents in the study was 58.
Although the reasons why this proved to be the case are unclear, researchers do have a theory. “Perhaps grandparents are made more nervous about the task of driving with the ‘precious cargo’ of their grandchildren and establish more cautious driving habits” in order to compensate for any age-related challenges they may have, wrote the researchers.
Although grandparents were slightly less likely to follow recommended practices for child car seats, including rear-facing backseat car seats for infants and no front-seats, this did not seem to affect injury rates.
Other circumstances not studied could have played a role in the results, said Joseph Schofer of Northwestern University, a transportation expert not involved in the research. Grandparents, for example, could be less distracted and frazzled than busy parents and driving trips could represent “quality time” with their grandchildren.
No data on deaths was included in the study, although Henretig indicated there were very few. And the study also did not have information on types of car trips that were involved, such as driving in busy traffic that might increase chances for crashes resulting in injuries.
Bottom line study conclusions: “Grandchildren seem to be safer in crashes when driven by grandparents than by their parents, but safety could be enhanced if grandparents followed current child-restraint guidelines. Additional elucidation of safe grandparent driving practices when carrying their grandchildren may inform future child-occupant driving education guidelines for all drivers.”
See the full study here.
[AP via Boston Herald]