CHICAGO -- Kids may be safest in cars when Grandma or Grandpa are driving instead of Mom or Dad, according to study results that even made the researchers do a double take.
"We were surprised to discover that the injury rate was considerably lower in crashes where grandparents were the drivers," said Dr. Fred Henretig, an emergency medicine specialist at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the study's lead author.
Previous evidence indicates that car crashes are more common in older drivers, mostly those beyond age 65.
The study looked at injuries rather than who had more crashes, and found that children's risk for injury was 50 percent lower when riding with grandparents than with parents.
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The results are from an analysis of State Farm insurance claims for 2003-07 car crashes in 15 states, and interviews with the drivers. The data involved nearly 12,000 children up to age 15.
Reasons for the unexpected findings are uncertain, but the researchers have a theory.
"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 compensate for any age-related challenges, they wrote.
The study was released online today in the journal Pediatrics.
Northwestern University Professor Joseph Schofer, a transportation expert not involved in the research, noted that the average age of grandparents studied was 58.
"Grandparents today are not that old" and don't fit the image of an impaired older driver, he said. "None of us should represent grandparents as kind of hobbling to the car on a walker."