Do Grandparents Drive More Safely Than Parents?

The journal Pediatrics has grabbed some headlines with the surprising conclusion of recent study involving children and car accidents:

Overprotective parents, hand over the car keys: A new study finds that kids may be safer when their grandparents drive than when mom and dad are behind the wheel. …

Grandparents made up 9.5 percent of drivers in crashes involving kids between 2003 and 2007, but they were associated with only 6.6 percent of injuries, [Fred M. Henretig, a pediatrician and emergency room physician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia,] found. In addition, grandparents were just as safe as parents when it came to markers of crash type and severity, such as posted speed limits, the direction of impact and whether wrecks resulted in rollovers or tows.

In fact, children riding with grandparents have about 50 percent risk reduction just by riding with their grandparents over their parents. Some of this isn’t entirely surprising as the average age of the grandparent in the study was 58 — that doesn’t necessarily make them a senior citizen. In fact, at that age I’d say that makes them awfully experienced behind the wheel while still being young enough to have sharp reflexes.

Further, I’d think that parents are often struggling to deal with school schedules, work, soccer practice etc. It’s a lot more stressful to be a parent than a grandparent, so you’re more likely to be rushed and distracted while driving. If grandparents are with the kids, it’s more likely to be because they’re simply enjoying their grandchildren.

The study also notes that there was one key way where kids might not be safer with Grandma and Grandpa — the study found that 25 percent of the time kids are driving with grandparents they were not restrained with “optimal practices.” Basically, your Mom and Dad are less familiar and a little more haphazard with these new car seat thingamajigs, because when you were growing up they were wither relatively new or not required by the government altogether. So you might want to make sure that you go over the car seat situation with them next time they come over to stuff their faces full of ice cream and later leave you struggling to quell the sugar high and get them to bed.

Finally, remember that this is just a study about averages. Just because grandparents are on average safer, that doesn’t mean that your 70 year-old Mom with macular degeneration is probably ok behind the wheel, or that your husband who admantly refuses to touch the brakes until he could spit on the stopped car in front of you — love you honey! — doesn’t need to reevaluate his driving habits for the sake of the kids. Be safe out there.

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