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Kids Safer With Gransparents Driving

Wall Street Journal, Jennifer Corbett Dooren

July 19, 2011

Kids appear to be safer when driven in a car by a grandparent instead of a parent, a new study shows.

Children were half as likely to be injured in a crash when a grandparent was behind the wheel compared with crashes involving mom or dad. The lower injury rate was surprising to researchers because older drivers are more likely to involved in an accident than younger drivers, and grandparents were shown to be slightly less likely than parents to properly use restraints such as car seats or booster seats.

The study, led by researchers at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, is believed to be the first comparing parent and grandparent drivers. It was published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

The researchers looked at insurance-claims data from State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. involving children in 15 states and the District of Columbia from 2003 to 2007. They parsed the injury rates in crashes of cars with occupants age 15 and younger, and determined whether a grandparent or parent was driving, the severity of the crash and the use of seat belts and car seats.

A parent was driving in about 90% of the crashes and a grandparent in 10%. Yet grandparents accounted for just 6.6% of the total injuries in the study, and the parents the rest.

The injury rate, calculated per 100 child occupants, was 0.7% for grandparents and 1.05% for parents.

"There's something about the grandparents that they are driving more cautiously," says Flaura Winston, one of the researchers. The study says grandparents perhaps are more nervous about driving such "precious cargo" and drive more cautiously to offset the extra risks older drivers face.

Researchers said anecdotal evidence shows grandparents take extra precautions such staying in the right-hand lane, and that they are more vigilant about obeying posted speed limits and other traffic laws when transporting their grandchildren than when the grandkids aren't in the car.

Sally Buecker of Brick, N.J. says whenever she is driving any of her five grandchildren—who range from 6 to 10 years old—"I'm a very defensive driver. I'm never in a hurry." She admits to driving a bit faster when the grandchildren aren't in the car.

Dr. Winston, a pediatrician and the scientific director of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's Center for Injury Research and Prevention, says grandparents could likely improve their relatively low injury rates if they better adhere to the latest guidelines on car-seat use.

The number of grandparent drivers is expected to increase in the coming years as more members of the baby-boom generation become grandparents.

The average age of grandparents in the study was 58 and the average age for parents was 36.

Parents were more likely to properly restrain their children, with 80% of using what was considered "optimal" restraint with age-appropriate car or booster seats, compared to about 72% of grandparents.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently updated its recommendations for child restraints to say that infants and young children should be placed in a rear-facing seat until they are 2 years old, or until they grow to reach the maximum height and weight approved for their seats.

Forward-facing car seats are recommended for children through at least age 4. Belt-positioning booster seats are recommended until children reach 4 feet 9 inches tall, and are between 8 and 12 years of age.

Children who weigh 40 pounds or less are best protected by a full harness instead of a belt-positioning booster-seat. And children younger than 13 years old should never ride in the front seat, according to the latest AAP guidelines.

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