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Though this isn’t necessarily a psychological study, per se, I was really intrigued by one of the new pre-release, web-published studies in Pediatrics on vehicle safety for children with grandparent drivers versus parent drivers.  Here is the link to the study (currently available for free online):

Grandparents Driving Grandchildren: An Evaluation of Child Passenger Safety and Injuries

Looking at data from vehicle crashes over a 4-year period, Henretig, et al., found that while grandparents were more likely to practice unsafe restraints of the kids (e.g. allowing kids to sit in the front seat, incorrectly installing child safety seats), kids had a lower risk of injury in crashes where grandparents were the drivers instead of parents.

It’s an interesting quandary.  On the one hand, grandparents were riskier with how the kids were restrained.  Grandparents also tended to drive cars associated with higher injury risks.  However, on the other hand, the overall risk of injury in collisions was lower.

Henretig, et al., suggest that perhaps different driving styles between parents and grandparents might explain the odd pattern of results.  When I think of elderly drivers, I generally assume that their reaction times are slower, leading to higher risk of accidents.  However, as the authors suggest, it’s possible that having a “baby on board” helps grandma be even more cautious and drive more defensively.

When and where to allow others to drive your kids is a significant decision facing parents on a regular basis.  Certainly these findings would suggest that it is a good idea to work with grandparents to make sure they are up to date on current vehicle safety recommendations – whether this is done on a large scale or just by going over things carefully with grandma before letting her drive.  Although the risk for injury is lower, there is certainly room for improvement in child vehicle safety with grandparents.  Of course, no research study is a good replacement for using your own good judgment about whether grandma is an adequate chauffeur for your children, but the study findings also suggest that riding with grandma might not be as fraught with peril as you may fear.

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