Grandma may be safer behind the wheel than mom when it comes to injuries from car crashes involving children, an insurance database showed.
Adjusted risk of injury to children in crashes with a grandparent driving was half that when parents were driving, Dr. Fred M. Henretig, of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and colleagues found.
This advantage was seen despite grandparents not strapping kids in as well as parents and older drivers being more likely to get in accidents, the group reported in the August issue of Pediatrics.
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"Perhaps grandparents are made more nervous about the task of driving with the 'precious cargo' of their grandchildren and establish more cautious driving habits to offset these challenges," the researchers wrote.
If that's the case, figuring out what grandparents are doing right could help others protect children, Henretig and colleagues suggested.
However, the study couldn't indicate who were safer drivers overall since it only included crashes without any drive-time denominator.
The analysis of the Partners for Child Passenger Safety Study examined motor vehicle crashes involving 11,859 children under age 16 from 2003 through 2007, identified by insurance claims to State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company.
Follow-up telephone surveys were conducted with the drivers, who described the characteristics of accidents, ranging from minor vehicle damage to severe damage with injury.
Cars qualified for inclusion in the study if they were insured by State Farm, were of the model year 1990 or newer, and were involved in a crash with at least one child occupant younger than 16.
Grandparents were the drivers in 9.5 percent of the crashes involving children, but only 6.6 percent of those with significant injury to a child passenger.
These injuries were classified as including concussion or more serious brain injury, any internal organ injury, spinal cord injury, face and extremity fracture.
The rate of injury to children passengers was 0.70 percent in crashes with grandparent drivers and 1.05 percent in those with parent drivers.
After adjustment for driver gender, child age and gender, use of restraints by driver and child, child seating position, and crash-scene characteristics and severity, the odds ratio for child passenger injury in a crash was 0.50 with grandparents versus parents driving (95% confidence interval 0.33 to 0.75).
Though use of restraints -- safety belts or car seats -- had been nearly universal across groups at 98 percent to 98.7 percent respectively, they weren't as often used optimally with grandparent drivers.
Grandparents weren't significantly more likely to have put kids in the front seat, though.
The researchers cautioned that their study relied on parent or other self-reports for all child and crash characteristics, which might have been subject to reporting bias.
Although the research was limited to policyholders of a single auto insurer, it was the largest such in the country and likely had a generalizable population, they pointed out.
But the drivers in the study were much more likely to have been wearing a seat belt than seen in another study of crashes involving drivers of comparable ages, Henretig's group noted.
"Perhaps driving their restrained children or grandchildren influenced our parent and grandparent drivers to restrain themselves," they suggested in the paper.