Center for Injury Research and Prevention

Naturalistic Data Describe Teens' Risky Driving

October 6, 2016
James Megariotis CIRP@CHOP

A note from Carol Murray, MSS, MLSP, CIRP@CHOP training manager: Today we are pleased to welcome a guest blog post from James N. Megariotis, who is majoring in Mechanical Engineering at Drexel University. James has worked with CIRP’s Biomechanical Engineering Research team for the past nine months as a co-op student and recently presented his research at conferences sponsored by the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

I came to CIRP@CHOP as an undergraduate Mechanical Engineering student with no experience in research and a passion for robotics. After only nine short months, I have had the chance to participate in almost every aspect of the research process, from proposing projects to the Institutional Review Board (IRB) to publishing findings and speaking at international automotive safety conferences.

I was given the opportunity to work in a variety of cutting-edge research, including studying traffic safety factors on vehicles equipped with sensors and cameras, which I discuss here. I am also working on projects developing immersive driving scenarios in a state-of-the art simulator and exploring how drivers will respond to new and emerging autonomous vehicle technology. These experiences have not only changed my outlook on the future of highway safety, but also led me to consider a career path in traffic safety research.

For a study that was recently published in Traffic Injury Prevention and funded by the Center for Child Injury Prevention Studies (CChIPS), I, under the supervision of Dr. Helen Loeb and Thomas Seacrist, delved deeply into what behaviors may lead drivers to crash and how experience can mitigate these risks using the Strategic Highway Research Program 2 (SHRP2) Naturalistic Driving Study. SHRP2 collected data by equipping research subjects’ vehicles with sensors and cameras and monitoring their real world driving over time. Today, SHRP2 allows researchers to study crashes and driver behavior by providing extensive real world data recorded during crashes, near crashes, and routine driving over a three-year period.

What we found is teens not only crash more frequently than adults, but also experience significantly more severe crashes at much higher speeds.

Other interesting results from the study include:

  • About one-third of teen drivers that crashed were actively using their cell phones.
  • About half of the teens using their phones were texting while driving.
  • Teen drivers were more likely to tailgate by exhibiting shorter following distances than adult drivers.

I’m also working with autonomous vehicle research to see if this new technology may be able to one day help make the roads safer for teens and other at-risk groups. While these vehicles may help reduce crash injuries and fatalities in the future, there will always be some resistance as with any new technology. Our goal is to study not only the general public’s comfort level with autonomous vehicles, but also how drivers will respond to emergency situations when required to regain manual control of these vehiclesWith these vehicles now available to consumers, it is more important than ever to study these safety factors.