When I read that kids are safer with grandma behind the wheel, I had to smile. A new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics shows kids are twice as safe when their grandparents are behind the wheel instead of their parents.
Dr. Fred Henretig, emergency medicine attending physician at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, came to that surprising conclusion after looking at data on car crashes involving children in 15 states and Washington, D.C. The data were collected by an insurance company between 2003 and 2007.
It’s long been known that older people get into more car accidents than younger drivers, so Henretig and his colleagues figured their study would simply confirm what everyone already knew: that children’s grandparents would be more likely than their parents to put kids in danger while shuttling them around.
In fact, the researchers found that grandparents were half as likely as parents to cause injury to children. “We were very surprised by the finding that most people’s intuition turned out to be wrong,” Henretig says. “What we learned was that grandparents drive very, very cautiously when their grandchildren are on board, making a special effort to drive safely.”
Henretig, 64, said the study was prompted by his own experiences when his first grandchild was born three years ago. “I found myself being very nervous on the occasions that we drove our granddaughter around and really wondered if anyone had ever looked at this.”
Reasons for the unexpected findings are uncertain, but the researchers have a theory. “Grandparents may be more nervous about driving their ‘precious cargo’ and establish more cautious driving habits to compensate for any age-related challenges.”
However, grandparents did fall short on one safety measure. They were less likely than parents to adopt one crucial safe-driving behavior — strapping children into seat belts or proper restraints such as a car seat. While 98% of both parents and grandparents involved in crashes used some type of safety restraint for their children, 25% of grandparents did not follow car-safety recommendations, while only 19% of parents failed to follow proper guidelines for securing kids.
“We’d like to see increased educational efforts and advocacy initiatives targeted to grandparents in particular,” says Henretig. “There are millions of programs on child safety tips, and driving safely with children on board, but very little of it is targeted to grandparents.”
Many of us grandmas may not be aware of the latest car-seat guidelines by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The pediatricians group recommends that infants younger than 2 years ride in the back seat in a rear-facing child seat. Once they outgrow that, they can move to a front-facing car seat, which must remain in the back seat. Older children too big for these seats can move to a booster seat until they reach the height of 4 ft. 9 in. After that, they should stay in the back seat of the car, but use lap or shoulder belts.
How do you feel about driving your grandchildren around?