A study comparing the restraint use practices and injuries among children in crashes with grandparents versus parent drivers was conducted by researchers at the Children Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania. Data were collected as part of the Partners for Child Passenger Safety (PCPS) Study, which was conducted from June 1998 through November 2007, involving children 15 years or younger.  

A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study found that 42% of nonresidential adult drivers of children were the child’s grandparents. “Thus, grandparents who are not full-time custodial caretakers represent a significant pool of drivers with child passengers. So, what are some of the suggested reasons for the amazing find? Well, Fred M. Henretig, one of the researchers of the study suggest that “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 age-related driving challenges.” These challenges are described in extensive existing literature about older drivers suffering from perceptual deficiencies and problems judging and responding to traffic flow, and other age-related challenges.

The initial hypothesis of the research was that children were more at risk with grandparent-drivers than parent-drivers, however the study concluded that the rate of injury to children passengers was less with grandparent-drivers than with parent-drivers. Grandparents made up 9.5 percent of drivers in crashes involving kids between 2003 and 2007, but was associated with only 6.6 percent of injuries. The study also found that grandparents were just as safe as parents when it came to markers of crash types and severity, such as posted speed limits, direction of impact and whether wrecks resulted in rollovers or tows. 

Also, older drivers avoid freeways and peak traffic times, avoid driving at night or bad weather in comparison to parent-drivers, which are factors that reduce crashes.

However, child occupants in grandparent-driven vehicles more often were not restrained according to the best practice recommendations, thus not following current child-restraint guidelines. The study found that grandparents were less likely than parents to use seats appropriate to the child’s age. Typically, the child was buckled into a seat belt instead of a toddler seat or booster seat appropriate for the child’s age or grandparents inadequately installed car seats. While grandparents understand the need to use car seats to keep their grandchildren safe, many say that car seats were difficult to use due to physical challenges such as arthritis, decreased strength or vision problems which impaired their ability to install or use car seats. They need help installing car seats or find a restraint that is easier for them to use.

In a survey conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the misuse of child-restraint system increased in locations such as fast-food restaurants, shopping centers and child merchandise stores. The survey also found that children were more likely to sit on their grandparent’s lap when driving than with parent-drivers.

Overall, although the PCPS study found that grandchildren may be safer in crashes when driven by grandparents than by their parents, child safety could be enhanced if grandparents learn and apply current child-restraint guidelines.



Fred M. Henretig, Dennis R. Durbin, Michael J. Kallan, Flaura K. Winston. (2011, August). Grandparents Driving Grandchildren: An Evaluation of Child Passenger Safety and Injuries.

Amie Durocher. (2014, November 20). When Grandparents Transport Children.

Crystal Phend. (2011, July 18). Grandparent Driving Means Safer Road Trips.

JoNel Aleccia. (2011, July, 18). Grandparents Drivers Keep Kids Safer in Crashes, Study Finds.

Parents Central ,From Car Seats to Car Keys, Keeping Kids Safe.