Institute to Study Teen Driving Fatigue, Distraction

August 20, 2008 08:51 AM
by Lindsey Chapman
Researchers are looking for a way to help teenage drivers learn how to avoid problems caused by fatigue and distraction on the road.

Recording Teen Driving Behavior

The Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University, Bozeman, is planning to conduct a study aimed at helping teenage drivers stay safe on Montana’s rural roads.
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States. During 2005, 12 teen drivers age 16 to 19 died every day of motor vehicle-related injuries. Per mile driven on the road, this age group is more at risk for a motor vehicle crash than any other older driver, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) says the risks faced by kids driving on rural roads in states like Montana and Wyoming are nearly four times greater than for teen drivers on urban roads. “Distraction and fatigue are big issues with teen drivers,” said Nic Ward, a professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, and a researcher at the Western Transportation Institute. “The more rural your state, the more of your teens are dying on the roads.”

The study will use special in-car cameras to help kids learn about safe driving behavior. Although the cameras will always be on when a teen is driving, they will only record video when “g-force sensors” are activated in a traffic incident like a vehicle swerve or a collision. Analysts will examine the video to see how distraction or fatigue may have contributed to the problem, and then implement any lessons learned in a driver’s education class.

Rather than using surveys, this will be a more “naturalistic” approach to studying teen driving behavior. All of the teens driving cars with cameras will also be participating in driver’s education courses around Montana.

“We have educators doing what feels good in their gut, but we don’t have the ongoing evaluation for best practices because there isn’t any research money,” stated David Huff, director of traffic education for Montana’s Office of Public Instruction. The cameras can help educators learn where the driver’s education program is working, and where improvements are necessary, he explained. Other driver’s ed programs around the country could use this information as well.

The NHTSA has contributed $175,000 to the study, and the Montana Department of Transportation has given $25,000. Preliminary work will start in the fall.

How Parents Can Help

As parents prepare to send their kids off to a new school year, there are some things they can do to help their young drivers stay safe, reports KARE 11 TV in Minnesota. Debbie Prudhomme, of the Training Wheels Drivers Education Program, suggested that parents not allow their teens to drive with anyone other than a parent for at least 1,000 miles. Parents should also work to model safe driving behavior to their youngsters, said Dawn Duffy of AAA Minneapolis.

Related Topics: Trucker, pilot fatigue; senior citizens on the road


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