Adolescent Driving Studies

Funded by National Institute of Nursing Research: K99/R00NR013548; PENN University Research Foundation, PENN; Dr. Dorothy Mereness Endowed Research Fund, PENN School of Nursing.

As the leading cause of adolescent death and disability, MVCs are a public health crisis. Adolescents ages 16 to 19 years are nearly three times more likely than drivers >19 years to be in a fatal crash. Adolescent drivers are at highest crash risk in the first 6 months of licensure, making it a vitally important period for interventions to reduce crash risk. Inattention to the roadway is a major contributor to adolescent driver crashes and includes visual, physical and cognitive components—including not looking at the roadway ahead, hands not on the wheel and mind off the task of driving. Adolescents are particularly susceptible to driver inattention even in the first months of licensure, most notably the contributions of cell phone use and presence of peer passengers to crash risk.

We have carried out a number of studies with adolescent drivers to better understand inattention to the roadway, including focus group studies, using of driving simulation and eye tracking, in-vehicle monitoring and prospective surveys. Through our research, we have a better understanding of adolescents ‘ perceptions of driver inattention related to cell phones and peer passengers, the development and pilot testing of an intervention to address adolescent driver inattention, and identification of how and when adolescents engage in cell phone use while driving. Through our research we also have been able to elucidate factors related to risky driving, such as mental health factors in adolescents and parental cell phone use while driving. Through our work, we seek to keep adolescents and those that share the road with them safe and healthy.

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