It was not too long ago that I held a deep-seated prejudice. No, I am not talking about my longstanding hatred of Hungarians, nor my antipathy towards vegetarians, nor even my heated disdain for anyone who earns more money than I do. I’m, of course, talking about my bigotry towards the elderly. Until quite recently, I lived under the misguided belief that old people tended to be poorer drivers and should have their driver’s licenses revoked once they turned 80.

In fairness, I have some supporting data to back up my bias. My grandfather did not stop driving until he was 86. In his later years he rarely used his turn signal, usually opting to indicate his intentions with his windshield wiper lever instead. He thought STOP signs were for pedestrians.  My mother, now age 90, only turned over the car keys at age 85 when she attempted to park her car in her own garage. That wouldn’t have been a problem except for her small oversight of forgetting to raise the garage door before entering the garage.

So imagine my surprise when I read about a new study this week that shows that grandparents are far safer drivers than parents when kids are in the car. In fact, the study conducted by State Farm Insurance involving claims for collisions between 2003 and 2007 concluded that kids are 50% less likely to become involved in an accident involving injuries when a grandparent is driving than when a parent is behind the wheel.

As to why kids appear to be safer with grandma and grandpa as chauffeur than with mom or dad, there are various theories. Perhaps grandparents are more cautious about the task of driving with “precious cargo” in the back seat. Some researchers speculate that grandparents are more likely to be retired and therefore may be under less stress and less prone to road rage.

Another theory for the wide disparity in safety records is that parents may be more distracted while driving as a result of having to listen to Natalie scream that Justin is hitting her, to which Justin responds “Yeah, well you started it” to which Natalie then shouts back “Did not” to which Justin retorts “Did to” to which Natalie rejoinders “You’re a snotty, stinky butt face” to which Justin returns serve with “Yeah? Well it takes one to know one” to which Natalie screeches back … [Author’s note: The previous dialogue has been abridged in the interest of space limitations and to prevent the onset of a serious migraine.]

My own personal theory is that kids are more well-behaved when Grandpa is driving because they know he could kick off any day now and they are jockeying to inherit his really cool collection of African hunting rifles or, if they play their cards right, his two-tone 1954 Studebaker with only 22,000 miles on it.

So, all you moms and dads out there, if you truly love your kids, do the right thing for their safety. The next time you’re tempted to taxi your kids to the mall, plan ahead. Call Grandpa instead. You will rest easier knowing your kids will arrive home safe and sound – albeit perhaps a few hours later than planned since Grandpa forgot where you live and ended up at a Chucky Cheese instead. But at least the kids had a great time playing all those arcade games when they would otherwise have been stuck at home finishing their homework. You should see all the fun toys they amassed, thanks to the 1,378 arcade game coupons they collected in just two hours. The polka dot backscratcher is for you, dad.  The neon pink plastic slinky is for you, mom.

As you prepare to turn over the soccer carpool responsibilities to Grandma, just remember these important child safety tips:

  • Never let kids under 80 pounds sit in the front seat
  • Be sure to check that your kids are safely buckled in before Grandma drives off, and
  • Remind Grandma that RED means STOP and GREEN means GO (she sometimes gets confused), and that unlike how she may recall it from her childhood, STOP signs are no longer optional in the summertime

The study’s findings convinced me that that the only prudent thing for us to do was to invite my 90-year old mother to take over the job of driving our two girls to the mall, gymnastics practice, and summer camp. I think this is going to work out great, plus it really frees up my time.

To be honest, I was a bit nervous at first since my mother had not driven in over 5 years. And her glaucoma is much worse than it was back then. The initial results were a tad bit disconcerting, I must say. Her decision to back out of the McDonald’s parking lot into oncoming rush hour traffic was a maneuver I had not anticipated. Then there was her near collision with the “optional” STOP sign near our house that she swore was not there 5 years ago.

I think what surprised me most, however, was when she entered Interstate 90 using the exit ramp. Thankfully, she figured out her error within minutes, and nobody was hurt – although the farmer hauling 120 bales of hay, who saw this grandmother coming at him in the wrong direction, causing him to flip his tractor in order to avoid a head-on collision, probably was a little peeved about the mess he had to clean up.

Am I worried? Not in the least. I know it’s just a matter of practice practice practice. I am quite confident that by the time our kids’ grandmother reaches 100, she will have worked out all these pesky little problems and will once again be an excellent, safe driver. But just in case there are any hiccups with my plan, I have taken the precaution of covering the hood and sides of the minivan in bubble wrap and putting a large flashing sign on the roof of the vehicle that reads:



That should do it. What could possibly go wrong?

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.

© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2011

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