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Grandparents May Be Better Drivers

< Jul. 20, 2011 > -- Your kids may be safer riding with Grandma and Grandpa than with you, a new study says.

Photo of young boy asleep in car seat

The odds of a child being injured in a vehicular accident are halved if a grandparent is behind the wheel, researchers found.

"Something is going on," says lead author Fred Henretig, M.D., at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "It looks like grandparents are doing something protective, but our study can't answer what that is."

Sifting through data

The researchers examined insurance data on motor vehicle accidents from January 2003 through November 2007. At least one passenger in the vehicle when the accidents occurred was younger than 16.

The researchers found that grandparents were driving in 1,143 of the accidents, and parents were behind the wheel for 10,716. Although grandparents made up about 9.5 percent of the drivers, accidents involving the grandparents caused only 6.6 percent of the total injuries.

After adjusting the data to account for factors such as type of car and severity of the crash, the researchers concluded that children riding with their grandparents were 50 percent less likely to be injured in an accident.

Slower drivers

Lynn Purdy, R.N., program coordinator for the national Child Passenger Safety Program, says she isn't sure why having a grandparent as driver might prove safer in a crash. She suspects that grandparents may drive more slowly than younger adults.

About 38 million American drivers are older than 65, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates.

Safety seats

The one area in which grandparents were negligent was in child safety seat use. More than a quarter of the grandparents in the study didn't use the most appropriate safety restraints, and 2 percent of grandparents didn't bother placing children in restraints at all.

"More of the baby boomers are coming into grandparenthood now, and this important group of drivers of young children hadn't really been looked at critically," Dr. Henretig says. "Parents should feel that grandparents aren't necessarily more dangerous behind the wheel, but grandparents do need to be carefully shown how to use the child safety restraint equipment."

Purdy advises grandparents - or anyone - with a child safety seat in his or her car to take it to a certified child passenger safety technician to ensure that it's properly installed and being used properly.

For more information on health and wellness, please visit health information modules on this website.

Child Passenger Safety Seats, Belts

Follow these 2011 seat-belt guidelines from the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Children ages 12 and under should ride in the back seat, and they should be properly restrained in an infant seat, child safety seat, or seat belt. The safest place is in the center of the back seat.

  • A car safety seat should fit the child, fit the vehicle, and be installed correctly in the back seat every time it's used. One common problem is not fastening the seat tightly to the vehicle; another problem is not fastening the harness tightly to the child.

  • A car safety seat must be installed correctly to perform correctly in a crash. One study cited by the CDC found that 72 percent of child safety seats were not used correctly. Most of these are too loose. What's tight enough? The seat belt should feel stiff and the car seat should not move more than an inch, either from side to side or from front to back.

Some vehicles made before 1997 may need a locking clip to lock the seat belt; newer vehicles have built-in locks. Your vehicle owner's manual should explain how to use your seat belts with a child safety seat.

All vehicles, as well as all child safety seats made after September 2002 have Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH). This type of system allows you to install a child safety seat without using the vehicle's seat belt. Even if you have a vehicle or seat made before 2002, it may have LATCH.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

CDC - Child Passenger Safety

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - Child Safety

Pediatrics - Grandparents Driving Grandchildren