A study released in the journal Pediatrics found that children driven by their grandparents are less likely to suffer from a serious injury if involved in a crash. Dr. Fred Henretig, an emergency medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and lead author of the study said that the study was inspired by his own experiences with his first grandchild: “I found myself being very nervous on the occasions that we drove our grand-daughter around and really wondered if anyone had ever looked at this before.” Acknowledging that car crashes are more common in drivers above age 65, the study instead focused on the injuries involved in crashes rather than the number of crashes.
Surprisingly, a child’s risk of injury was lower when riding with grandparents than with parents. The study analyzed State Farm insurance claims from 2003-2007 of car crashes in 15 states as well as interviews with the drivers. The data included over 11,000 children under age 15. Although children driven by grandparents made up about 9.5% of the sample, children driven by grandparents resulted in only 6.6% of the total injuries. Overall, 1.05% of children were injured when they were riding with their parents, but only 0.70% of that group was injured when riding with their grandparents. Thus, a child had almost a 33% lower risk of injury when driven by their grandparent.
Additionally, the study found that there was little difference in the type of injury for children while driving with grandparents versus parent drivers. Head injuries accounted for about 63% of the injuries, injuries to extremities at 16.6%, chest and abdomen at 13.5%, face at 5.7% and spinal column at 1.2%.
Unfortunately, grandparents did fail one aspect of the study: best-practice recommendations for optimal child restraint. Grandparents were less likely to follow the recommended practices (rear-facing backseat car seats for infants, seat belts, etc.) that parent drivers. However, this failure did not seem to affect the injury rates published in the study.
There are some drawbacks to the study: failure to include information on the types of car trips involved (busy city traffic versus road trips in the country) and other circumstantial factors that may have influenced the results (i.e. grandparents may be less distracted spending their leisure time with children than parents that are rushing to work or dropping kids off at school). However, all-in-all, children seem to be safer with grandparents.
Both parents and grandparents are advised to follow the most current child-restraint guidelines found in an article by Dennis Durbin, MD; to make sure your child is safe when you are driving:
- All infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat (CSS) until they are 2 years of age or until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the manufacturer of their CSS.
- All children 2 years or older, or those younger than 2 years who have outgrown the rear-facing weight or height limit for their CSS, should use a forward-facing CSS with a harness for as long as possible, up to the highest weight or height allowed by the manufacturer of their CSS.
- All children whose weight or height is above the forward-facing limit for their CSS should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle lap-and-shoulder seat belt fits properly, typically when they have reached 4 feet 9 inches in height and are between 8 and 12 years of age.
- When children are old enough and large enough to use the vehicle seat belt alone, they should always use lap-and-shoulder seat belts for optimal protection.
- All children younger than 13 years should be restrained in the rear seats of vehicles for optimal protection.