Center for Injury Research and Prevention

Automated Cars and Teens

February 11, 2016

Moderator's Note: This post was authored by Eve Weiss, MS, who served as the managing director for the Center for Child Injury Prevention Studies (CChIPS). As of October 2017, Ms. Weiss has left CHOP to pursue her career elsewhere.

It’s auto show season, and many of you may be headed to your local convention center to check out some of the new technologies we’ve been hearing about in the media. Automated cars – whether it’s a warning system that alerts you when you’re drifting into the next lane or driving too close to the car ahead of you or a more advanced system that is capable of taking over and driving for you if a crash is imminent – are the new buzz.

Here at CIRP, we’re hopeful that these new advances in advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) will eventually make roads safer for drivers and passengers.These exciting new technologies have the potential to compensate for driver skill deficits and reduce overall crash risk. However, development and evaluation of these systems have primarily focused on typical adult drivers. Very limited research has been conducted on the suitability of these technologies for teen drivers – the population most likely to benefit from such systems.

It is well-established that teen drivers are at the greatest risk of crashing during the first year after licensure and that this risk stems primarily from inexperience and driving skill deficits among novice drivers. Research has shown that teen drivers exhibit poor scanning and situational awareness, are less likely to comprehend hazardous situations, and are unsure of how to appropriately respond to such hazards. CIRP@CHOP’s Simulated Driving Assessment (SDA) research has shown that although novice teen drivers are adept at basic driving skills (i.e., using turn signals), the more advanced skills (i.e. braking in hazardous situations, anticipating and responding to hazards) prove challenging. Novice teen drivers do not drive with sufficient headway time or brake with sufficient pedal pressure to avoid a rear-end collision, according to other CIRP@CHOP research.

Research Questions to Answer

Previous research has been conducted to determine the most effective ways to implement automated systems, such as drowsy driving alerts that track the orientation of the driver’s gaze or forward collision alerts, as well as how to prioritize the multiple incoming alerts for the driver. This research, however, has primarily focused on adult drivers only. Whether or not these systems are optimal for teens or if their injury reduction benefits will trickle down to young adults is still unknown. Will young drivers know how to respond to ADAS warnings? Will they become complacent in practicing safe driving behaviors if they think the vehicle will do it for them? Perhaps ADAS systems will need to be designed with the answers to these questions in mind.

What we can say with assurance is that, as these emerging technologies become available to consumers, it’s time to start thinking about how to adapt them to provide the most benefit among the population that needs them most: teen drivers.

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