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Children Fare Better With Grandparents At The Wheel

July 18, 2011

Researchers studying vehicle accidents have published surprising results in the journal Pediatrics stating that child passengers may be safer with a grandparent driving than the parent of the child.

“We were surprised to discover that the injury rate was considerably lower in crashes where grandparents were the drivers,” said Dr. Fred Henretig, an emergency medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the study’s lead author, told the Associated Press (AP).

Although vehicle accidents are more common in older drivers, mostly those beyond age 65, the results, culled from State Farm insurance claims for 2003 – 2007, looked at injuries rather than who had more crashes. The risk for injury involving children up to the age of 15 years of age was 50 percent lower when riding with grandparents than with parents, the study found.

Henretig, 64, explains how 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 before,” he told the AP.

Northwestern University Professor and transportation expert Joseph Schofer, not involved in the research, noted that the average age of grandparents studied was 58.

“Grandparents today are not that old” and don’t fit the image of an impaired older driver, he told the AP. “None of us should represent grandparents as kind of hobbling to the car on a walker.”

Grandparents did fail one safety major measure in that although all the kids were in car seats or seat belts, grandparents were slightly less likely to follow recommended practices, which include rear-facing backseat car seats for infants and no front-seats. But that didn’t seem to affect injury rates.

Overall, 1.05 percent of kids were injured when riding with parents, versus 0.70 percent of those riding with grandparents, or a 33 percent lower risk. The difference was even more pronounced, 50 percent, when the researchers took into account other things that could influence injury rates, including not using car seats, and older-model cars.

Kids suffered similar types of injuries regardless of who was driving, including concussions, other head injuries and broken bones.

Data on deaths was not included in the study, but Henretig said there were very few. It also lacked information on the types of car trips involved; for example, driving in busy city traffic might increase chances for crashes with injuries.

Schofer explains that other unstudied circumstances could have played a role such as grandparents possibly being less distracted than busy parents dropping their kids off at school while rushing to get to work or to do errands. Driving trips might be “quality time” for older drivers and their grandchildren, Schofer said.

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